25 maj 2012

7. Nigredo, the black work

7. Nigredo. The torture never ends.

The single most important period of your life is the actualisation of the nigredo.
The most important process for your path towards unveiling of the gold is this stage. You need steady heat from within and underneath and at crucial stages you need to receive the fire from above. Not  a single speck of dust shall remain that has not been transformed, the sulphur and mercury extracted from it.

The issue with alchemy is that you are already experiencing most of what alchemy is trying to show you just by living. Thus your entire life is in a way one single, long nigredo, but it takes so long that all that ends up happening is you get maybe halfway through the process, then you die.

Alchemy is about speeding up this process, actualise it, making yourself aware of it and speeding it up enough for the blackening to be complete not in your usual 80 years but your decade or less.
Some think that nigredo means you have to be depressed all the time, dark and moody. Some subcultures linked with the study of the western traditions seem to think that nigredo means wearing black.

That cherry doesn't look horribly tasty does it. That is you. (except those of you who have already undergone your complete nigredo of course). Nigredo is needed because we all have festering wounds. We all have disfigured parts. We all have imperfections. Through nigredo we can transform it. Nigredo is the beginning and in a way the crown of the work. It is a purifying process. You can take whatever matter you want and burn it, it will still become nothing but ash in the end. Clean. Harmless and uniform, with the impurities removed.

If you have ever burned something that is not resin, you will have noticed that there is a smell following the burning. Whether you burn human hair, skin, food, wood, burned things smell bad. What happens if you keep burning? If you put a rose into a pan what happens? Does it catch fire after awhile or does it mostly wilt and dry and start to burn? Is there a pleasant smell first? Does it start to smell burned after this? What next? Is there a point when there is no longer a smell emanating at all? yes there is. When all has been reduced to ash, all is black. When you want to change something, first you have to reduce its body into its primal element. This is the process of travelling inwards and outwards at the same time. The fire will drive out the worms, bring them to the light. How much do you identify with the worms? If you suddenly scream "poor worm" and try and save it you will turn off the heat and remove the cherry from the pan. More people then you think do this. Why else are there douchebags out there? why do people not change? If someone want to become a different person then they are today why are they not doing it? Because, the process would be too horrible. For them. The maggot or a specific pretty bit of the cherry the maggots inhabit are not allowed to burn.
If you still become upset when you don't want to. You you still haven't worked out why you are on such a moral high horse. If you are still struggling with addiction. If you still believe that you are a person, then you are still working with this process. There is nothing wrong with that. 
Alchemy shows with the "without" what happens "within" and vice versa. 

Just to make this lovely process visible for you, I have included the Materia (before) and Materia in Nigredo (after) pictures of this lovely process, courtesy of one of my dear brothers.

The Apple, just placed into the athanor 
The Apple, after several months of natural decay. 

The apple is placed on a bed of pure sand (it has been blasted in about 800 degrees so there are no impurities in it) and covered with a purified completely clean glass bowl. The outside is then filled up with sand and the bed of sand is on a heatproof ceramic dish. This allows a natural decaying process to take place, free from all larger vermin. This is the way the alchemists of old would investigate certain things.

Why is this useful? Firstly the alchemist identifies with the object in the testube. The materia is a magic mirror for the alchemist, so s/he can see what is happening, at what stage of this particular process the soul/mind/body trinity is.

In the inner life, this alchemical process will manifest in a few ways, independent of outer work, whether this is shamanistic psychotherapy under St C.G. Jungs aegis (had to say it) or if its ceremonial magic or pure meditative work.

1 There will be a travelling inwards and a clearer understanding of ourselves.
2 there is an increase in heat, physical body heat but also "our heat" will envelop the worker
3 for a long time there is a sense of increased energy.
4 there is a collapse when the materia suddenly gives way to the darkening.
5 Bouts of feeling low will start to mix as the transformation occurs.
6 Periods of intense luminosity. The materia exhales the poisonous fumes and this release gives insight about oneself and the nature of the poisons.
7 as the materia returns slowly into the embrace of our isis, the dignities remain yet the individuality of the materia is given over to the great mother.

Jung and others have hinted that there are several meetings with the "shadow" that lead to a form of union with this entity/archetype just at the end. This is indeed the case.

If we think of the opus as a faerytale and the heroes journey, then your job is to go to the mountain and within it find the seven metals that you excavate and bring up to the top of the mountain. That there is a dragon guarding the gems is self explanatory. Why would there not be a dragon?

The nigredo will continue and do its job, if you let it. If you allow it to happen. If you don't drag out its process forever.

Why the nigredo is not all that bad:
The nigredo, though showing a blackening, is a purification and believe me, that is a nice experience. The fire cleans and heals.
Popcultural references to the Nigredo phase

In Snowwhite and the seven dwarves, the nigredo of the princess is living in the forest with the seven Dwarves and meeting her stepmother a few times, until finally she ends up in a casket.

In The Matrix, Neo's journey from awakening into the hell that is the real world and dying when being beaten to pulp by agent Smith is his nigredo.

Frodo's journey is a journey describing the Nigredo.

The story of Jesus has many readings, one of which will be the last bit of these series, and from one perspective, his life between baptism and the garden of gethsemane can be argued as a Nigredo.

The nigredo, will culminate in the absolute darkness when it cannot become anymore darker.

It is possible to spend your entire life doing rituals and engaging with religious practices without ever getting to the actual complete blackening.
Think about it. You are meant to take yourself, put yourself in a vessel and then undergo the process shown above in pictures. Are you -really- willing to do this? Your lips say yes but experience has taught me that it means "No".  Its seriously just so much easier to stay who you are and keep trying to find the right system, or the "correct way John Dee's system was intended to be used" or what have you.

(Methods will be discussed in later blogposts.)

10 kommentarer:

  1. I found much fruit in this article. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. Very, very interesting post. A complete blackening can be terribly frightful - I have read very few words on Nigredo from the framework of alchemy, but I identify this with 'the dark night of the soul' of catholicism.

    Thank you for your post.

  3. @Suecae Sounds,
    There is a difference between the Dark night of the Soul and nigredo.
    From the perspective of inner work, the Dark night of the Soul doesn't happen untill the complete blackening has taken place, whereas nigredo is the whole process from -prima materia- until it is all black ash.

    When the blackening has taken over there is a period of waiting before the first dots of white appear. That period is the Dark night/travel to the underworld/meeting of the Guardian.

    In a catholic/monastic perspective the nigredo is the process between takin the vows and starting practice. Then you have years of prayer and politics and likes and dislikes and issues with the isolation etc all these are the impurities that are leaving. Then there is only you and the practice left. At the stage when suddenly the prayers are emtpy and god isn't there, thats the Dark night ;)

    Mother Theresa's biography is strongly recommended.

  4. Brillant!
    Its funny that you mention Snow White. Since quite a time i was thinking about fairytales and the alchemical mysteries hidden in them.
    What about the Wolf and the seven kids, Rapunzel, Cinderella---or: Snow-White and Rose-Red!!!
    The traditional shamanic wisdom of some european countries like Germany may be lost, but there is still a lot encoded in the local fairy tales.

  5. @Reiner

    the German folk tales do indeed hide many alchemical mysteries, when we look at them. The Grimm's versions and the original stories from the German countryside and the slavic countries do have some weird points.

    The folk trying to lay with Red Riding Hood, and her escape, the several meetings between Snowwhite and the queen, Cinderella and her faery godmother who lives in a tree and helps her several times... yes, the archetypical images codified in the treatises are all over us.

    I think that the fact we are still so highly influenced culturally by the same things as we were 1000 and 2000 years ago is really obvious when we watch any current film, talk to a child or take the time to look at popular culture. The skeleton is still the same, no matter what fashion robe it wears. This is why it is so easy to spot charlatans and puffers who have no idea what they are writing/talking about.

    Interestingly, the Head of my department decided that we will no longer be teaching Jung as part of a large module instead only doing Freud and Lacan which is a shame as even non-alchemists and non Theurgists are constantly fighting against the same wolves as the little girls who put on that red dress and walk into the forrest ;)

  6. Your words really shed light into this subject. I think I have a more rich understanding of Nigredo already, due to your short but effective explanation.

    A question too, relating to your answer to Reiner - why would Lacan replace Jung? It seems like a strange switch, is it a move towards the post-modern and psycho-political, with Žižek, Althusser and Guattari as natural follow-ups?

    Grazie mille

  7. @Suecae Sounds

    Yes, Slavoj Zizek is being worshipped at all literary-theory institutions at the moment. I am personally not a fan or replacing Jung with Lacan as I believe that from a literary theory perspective Jung has more to offer, especially if we are to look into aspects of Lit. Theory that deal with comparative religion, mythical ethnology etc.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this, it is exactly what I had to read at this moment of my life.

  9. Very well written. Thanks for posting. :-)

    1. @j.c.
      Thanks, its probably one of the most popular posts on the blog, still ;)
      This series of articles will be finished. At some point. Just published one and two more are scheduled in the blogger.