The Messengers

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Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

We, at least we who have a background in Judeo-Christian religion, have been taught all our lives about angels. Other religions, of course, have a similar idea. The word, angel, carries so much baggage that I hesitate using it. Immediately, one thinks of winged creatures, usually fat babies, who bring some sort of blessing to humanity. Usually, we think of these beings as originating in some sort of heavenly paradise, but I have an idea as to what they actually are. They are part of the natural order of the universe. Read what the Spanish poet, Juan Eduardo Cirlot, has to say about the angel:

 A symbol of invisible forces, of the powers ascending and descending between the Source-of-Life and the world of phenomena (Cirlot 9).

These messengers may not be empirical beings, but they are, nevertheless, powerful, and very natural forces.  The ascending and descending calls to mind the story of Jacob’s Ladder, where Jacob dreamed of these beings traveling up and down a ladder that reached into heaven (Genesis 28:10-17).

There are not two worlds, one earthly and one heavenly. This is just the way mankind has literalized the manner in which the natural world operates. In our world, there are complementarities, of which the pair, consciousness and unconsciousness, are but one very important example. Also, there are different modes of Being, of which the powers we know as archetypes are one.

These non-empirical forces that, for millennia we have called angels, are the so-called “principalities and powers” of the World Soul. They do her work in Nature, ascending and descending between consciousness and unconsciousness. It is said we all have a “guardian angel,” or what Socrates called his daimon. These beings are a great mystery, since they are non-empirical, but many of us have experienced the whisper in the ear, or the slight nudge in a certain direction when making an important decision. It is part of being human. They bring ideas to us, descending to the depths of the Underworld, procuring what we need at the moment, and ascending back up into consciousness to provide the answer. Those epiphanies and eureka moments that we sometimes experience are brought by these beings. They are our lifeline to the vast ocean lying beneath us.

These beings of the unconscious are real and are at work in our psyches and in our world. They sometimes appear in our dreams. The archetypal power in charge of these forces is none other than Hermes, messenger of the gods, and World Daimon to the Anima Mundi. It is he who marshals these forces to come to our aid, to bring needed knowledge to us from the Underworld. Hermes is the god of secret knowledge and the guide of all souls. Tom Cheetham writes,

These Others come to us as persons: mothers, fathers, lovers, strangers; as angels and demons, as complexes and as  gods. They  all  embody  and  exemplify styles of consciousness, modes of living, ways of being. And  it  is  only  by being able to perceive the work of the real Hermes, that we can feel their presences at all. Without this, our worlds are filled with stereotypes, with typologies, with categories, with prejudices, and we never see a real person, never meet any Others at all. Until they break through in madness and misery, violence and destruction (Cheetham, 28).

We must greet the bearers of those strange voices, we must be the host at the Feast, and welcome the strangers. This is a delicate business. Respect and attention, care and  courtesy  are  required. Again  we  require  the  aid  of Hermes, for  the  ego wants  to  wall  itself off from the  Others. We  need  Hermes  in  order to violate those  boundaries. The  only  way  we  can  establish  the  Communion  that  is required is by moving freely in the spaces between the stars. We can only know who we are  if we know who we  are  not, if we  experience  our boundaries by experiencing where they touch those  of the  Others (Cheetham, 29).

When we encounter these beings, the usual answer from our medical community is to medicate us with various chemicals, to try and silence the messengers. I am skeptical concerning antidepressant medications because they attempt to quell the soul; they try to control what is naturally occurring. How can we be transmuted if we don’t endure the pressure and sometimes pain of their voices? The waking ego, indeed, wants to run away from the messengers, to be walled off from them, as Cheetham says. But we should learn to interact with them, as William Blake and  Emmanuel Swedenborg did. Then, we will be in a position to receive what they have to offer.

Works Cited

Cheetham, Tom. Green Man, Earth Angel. New York: SUNY Press, 2004.

 Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. Jack Sage. London: Routledge, 1971.

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Alchemy: Raven’s Head

Nigredo – dal manoscritto Viatorium spagyricum, Herbrandt Jamsthaler, (1625)

In the “furnace of the cross” and in the fire, says the “Aquarium sapientum,” “man, like the earthly gold, attains to the true black Raven’s Head; that is, he is utterly disfigured and is held in derision by the world (Jung 353)…

There is much more to be said about black than what has been said. The blacker the black, the whiter the white will be. The blackest black provides the most fertile incubator for transmutation. It is said by the alchemists to be as a raven’s head (caput corvi). It is not that black is to be identified with literally, as we see in suicides; it is symbol, image. Remember, all is image.

The raven is a harbinger of death, the dying of the common, the old ways, the old paradigm. From this thickest of blackness, a diamond will be born. Many people believe that diamonds are formed from coal. This, however, is a popular misconception. Geologist, Hobart King, says the majority of the world’s “diamonds…were formed in the mantle and delivered to the surface by deep-source volcanic eruptions” (Hobart King, How Do Diamonds Form?). Creation takes place deep within the earth’s mantle, where black is absolutely black, where carbon material is pulverized beneath the continental plates, some ninety miles below the earth’s surface. The temperatures there reach at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. After being ground to the blackest powder, the earth creates these wondrous stones and thrusts them back up to the surface. As above, so below. This is a powerful image of how the Nigredo works within the human psyche. At times, our lives are thrust deep into the unfathomable depths of the Underworld, where we are crushed, pulverized, and annihilated until we are black as the raven’s head.

 The Nigredo is the ultimate process of deconstruction. Where health once was, now there is only sickness; where happiness and meaningfulness once were, now there is only intense melancholia and nihilism. The Latin word, nihil, literally means “nothing.” One becomes as nothing when one encounters the raven. Where life once was, now there is only death. James Hillman writes, “Like a black hole, it sucks into it and makes vanish the fundamental security structures of Western consciousness” (Hillman 1626). Furthermore,

Black breaks the paradigm; it dissolves whatever we rely upon as real and dear. Its negative force deprives consciousness of its dependable and comforting notions of goodness. If knowledge be the good, then black confuses it with clouds of unknowing…(ibid.).

The purpose of the Nigredo is to plant us firmly in the darkness and in the depths of the Underworld. This prepares us for the next stage of transmutation.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman
Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition. Dallas: Spring, 2013.

Jung, C.G. Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry Into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy. trans, R.F.C. Hull. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 14. Princeton: Princeton, 1963.

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