Transformations of the soul, according to alchemy, pass through several different colors. Originally, there were four colors that were described by alchemists as indicating the four primary phases of the process that result in the lapis philosophorum.These are nigredo (black), albedo (white), citrinitas (yellow), and rubedo (red). Other transitional colors were also mentioned, with various meanings.
In this article, I’d like to discuss the color blue. I’ve just read James Hillman’s essay entitled, Alchemical Blue and the Unio Mentalis, and I was amazed. Hillman put into words what I’ve felt about the color blue for years, but could not verbalize it. Blue has always been my favorite color. As a boy, I wore a blue baseball cap. I wear blue clothing more than any other color. I’ve listened to the blues all my life, and have always loved the genre above all others. I even play blues guitar. The front door of my house is a deep, dark blue that looks almost purple. Unconsciously, I suppose, I’ve always chosen blue over all others.
The blue transit between black and white is like that sadness that emerges from despair as it proceeds towards reflection. Reflection here comes from or takes one into a blue distance, less a concentrated act that we do than something insinuating itself upon us as a quiet removal. This vertical withdrawal is also like an emptying out, the creation of a negative capability, a profound listening – already an intimation of silver (Hillman 1836-1838).
Even though blue means the dissolution of the nigredo, there is still an element of darkness contained therein. Yes, blue brings sadness, but there are deeper elements, as well. Think of the darkness associated with the phrases, “blue murder,” or the black-and-blueness of David Lynch’s film, Blue Velvet. Hillman also mentions “cursing a blue streak,” and the “blue ruin of gin.” Bluebeard is a French folktale where he kills several of his wives. There is more to blue than just sadness. It can be quite dark in its own right. But, even though blue still contains darkness, it is a mellower darkness than the nigredo.
Jungian analyst, Stanton Marlan relates a dream told to him by psychologist, Robert Romanyshyn:
V. and I awaken in a hotel room. It is dark outside, and I am surprised because it feels as if it should be morning. It feels that we have slept and the night has passed. I call the hotel desk to ask the time and someone tells me it is 9 A.M. Then the person says, “Haven’t you heard? Scientists are saying there’s something wrong with the sun.”
In a half waking state, a kind of reverie, the dream seems to continue: I have a sense that the world will be lit by a dark light. I also have the sense that these scientists have determined that there is much less hydrogen (fuel) and/or much less mass to the sun that they had previously expected. The world is going to become increasingly dark and cold.
But then the dark, nearly black light becomes blue/violet/purple. A blue sun, a beautiful aura of blue color bathes the world. I think of the color of the tail of the Peacock in alchemy (qtd. in Marlan 202-203).
The blackest black depression, if endured, transforms into a melancholy blue, signalling the decay of the nigredo, and heralding the appearance of the cauda pavonis, the Peacock’s Tail, with its many eyes of Argus Panoptes. Argus was an all-seeing giant who had multiple eyes, some of which stayed awake, and some of which slept. After being slain by Hermes, Hera preserved the eyes of Argus in the peacock’s tail. The colors in the peacock’s tail are many shades of blue. The peacock’s tail suggests reflection upon the world and existence. It also suggests the hypnagogic dreaminess of reality.
Blue as a state of soul is a sigh of despair when one becomes aware of the deep sadness of the world. This bluing signals the subordination of the Ego to other archetypal forces that allow one to see through many eyes.
Hillman, James. Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman
Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition. Dallas: Spring, 2013.
Marlan, Stanton. The Black Sun. Texas A&M University Press. College Station, 2005.