The Alchemy of Dreams: Hello darkness my internal light

 

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The Black Sun from the Splendor Solis (1535) representing the nigredo or the beginning of the alchemical work i.e., the first step on the path to the philosopher’s stone from chaos to enlightenment.

 

Pushing, pushing ever harder, transcending belief and going beyond the known I discover another me, not the me of the sunlight world with all its fears but the hidden me of the darkness that fears nothing.

The light above mirrored by the dark below and I find that I am but a dream and do not just live in the light but am lived by the darkness.

In that darkness all becomes clear and as I yield great strength comes to me and for one brief moment I glimpse eternity. Aye and for one brief moment there is only one.

And what say you to that?

Curator of lost dreams

 

My wife and I have often traveled the Pacific Northwest and one time pulled into a little town lined with antique stores, old fashioned news stands and funky little restaurants catering to the meat and potato crowd–sushi, are you kidding? After nosing around the town for a few hours the following missive came to me the next morning on the veranda of our lodgings:

Driving through town I pass beneath an ancient steel archway, a portal marker for a city hanging on to its past. Traffic is sparse and all moving in a single direction, much like, I imagine, most of the denizens of this little outpost bordering America’s past and future–pretty much all aligned in belief and values.

I parked along the curb across from a local antiquarian–a dealer in “the lost dreams of the dead” as the proprietor described himself to me before I wandered toward the back of his shop piled high with the bones of these dreams. I wandered narrow aisles displaying the technological wonders of a golden age where art and function united to create objects of magical beauty whose purpose have been lost to antiquity anticipating a Magus to caste just the right spell to animate them once again.

 

th-2.jpgI wandered past objects in fine wooden cases, or Bakelite boxes, some with oddly shaped glass tubes–the instruments of a former alchemist’s dreams–ready to spring to life once more.

And there it was, center stage in a locked glass cabinet, the object of my quest, a century old device once used by student wizards to peer into a Lilliputian universe. It had a golden tube that seemed to glow with a fire of it’s own. It was to the rational mind a brass microscope, a beautifully machined tool of exploration and wonder. Excitedly I called to my wife who also marveled at the find and immediately offered to purchase it as a birthday gift.

As the proprietor dismantled the lenses from the scope and wrapped them in tissue and butcher paper for their protection, he shared some of his own past. As an engineer by training and vocation he spent a lifetime wielding the modern instruments of his trade and watched in despair as the world became more and more functional and plastic and losing it’s beauty to practicality. “Something had to be done.” He said almost pleadingly. “So today I’m here as a curator of the past, a preserver of history, if you will” he added with a look of hopefulness that I would understand and honor his purpose.

“Many who enter here don’t understand, they see pretty things that briefly hold interest, just as with anything else in this world of small attention spans and equally small ambitions. Some come here to steal so as to feed their habits, or their addiction to excitement. Others come to sell and bury their loved ones in a place they know will honor their memory.”

So, like the oarsman who ferried the dead across the river Styx, this man tends to the ghosts of human ingenuity, preserving and honoring their former meaning and the dreams they once represented. “There seems to be a soul attached to these things. The souls of their former owners I think.” He says as he ties the last string around the larger package. “Or perhaps the souls of their inventor, or maker.” I suggest while hefting the package that somehow seemed heavier. It was as though the item were emphasizing the new import of the dream I now took as my own. “Perhaps.” He said his eyes glistening as he carefully handed me the smaller package of lenses.

I thanked him, turned to go, and as I did so he rounded the counter so as to escort me through the door. “Thanks for caring.” He said and I walked out of the shop of wondrous visions and onto the streets of empty eyes–the unseeing eyes blinded to the magic all around, to the dream we are all living, and to the past that informs it’s future through the world of our present.

More on the alchemy of the human psyche

 

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As many of you may know I often use material from a variety of mystical media e.g. alchemy, Tarot, the Kabalah, Hermeticism, as a means of exploring and explaining certain psychological principles. It is not that I ascribe to the functionality of these mystical approaches to understanding reality but that, as projections of the human psyche, they help me to grasp the vast mystery that lies behind the creative human mind and its relationship with what is perceived as real.

 Recently a blog reader wrote about the significance of alchemy in the understanding of the human psyche and especially the field of Analytic Psychology founded on the ideas and research of Carl G. Jung. He was particularly interested in the role that Mercury played in this understanding.

 Below is my answer to the query the reader presented.

There are typically two ways to think of alchemy, the “scientific” way as a precursor to modern chemistry and the “mystical” way (this is now thought by many to be the core of Analytical Psychology or Depth Psychology). I tend toward the mystical. Both seem to have as their goal the combination of all four mystical elements of the universe– earth, fire, air and water to create a 5th i.e. the philosopher’s stone. The “stone” for the mystical alchemist is the ‘ultimate state of enlightenment’ where the disparate parts of humankind are separated then recombined into one.

 For example (and this is where Mercury comes in), The prima materia of the universe comes as a dichotomy that of masculine and feminine with the male sulphur, hot, dry and active in opposition to the female, the argent-vive (mercury)–cold, moist and receptive, or male represented by Sol the creative force and the female by Luna the receptive force of wisdom. The conjunction of these two upon following a certain pattern will produce what Carl Jung termed a coiniunctio, the ultimate goal of the Individuation process i.e. what humankind seeks to become– a whole. 

 The action of Mercury in this process participates in both the light and dark worlds of the psyche and thus participates at all levels during the process of transformation.

 I also believe that the “dream body” (the ‘you’ in your dreams, acts as Mercurius, the intermediary between the conscious and unconscious– the waking world and dreaming world.

 Thus the feminine is the catalyst to the reunion of the male and female dichotomy that which was One as symbolically represented by “Adam”. Instead of lead transmuted into gold via the Philosopher’s stone the mystical way is talking about the psychological process of Individuation. It is the transmutation of the conflicted, and separated, human dichotomy into the wholeness of the Illumined Philosopher.

 I used the word “catalyst” in the paragraph above to point out that though the feminine starts the process of unification it does not lose its essence in the process. It’s a little like combining several ingredients in a meal and roasting them together so that they infuse one another but maintain their distinctness. The combining creates a flavor greater than the sum of their parts (if only our politicians could practice that simple rule of the universe).

In a later email the reader also commented on the significance of the number 4 in Jung’s philosophy.

The “four” to which you refer is represented by the four sides of the square while the circle represents the whole, or spirit, or the “stone”. It is the jewel in the lotus, the Christ if you will.

 By securing the prima materia (philosophical mercury) the dark matter of this bit of alchemy, the light of the stone can be found (“in the darkness can be found the light”). In a way the light of what we are can be found within (distilled from) the darkness of the unconscious, both personal and collective.

 The anima mundi, or world soul, that Jung so eloquently spoke of is released from its bondage when the union between Sol and Luna takes place.

 Perhaps this is the reconciliation spoken of by many Christians– that which can unite the souls of all humanity? Jung saw within the way of the alchemists the archetypes, the primordial dream symbols that form and inform the myths of humankind. Jung of course saw all this as a means for understanding the enigmatic psyche.

 His “four-ness” or what he referred to as the ‘quaternity’ and reference to the “squaring of the circle” regarding the images related to the four elements of the universe represented by the pairing within the male and female archetypes (air and fire in the male, Earth and water in the female) and the ‘spirit’ (the wholeness of the circle) was represented in his images of the mandalas that share common attributes across all cultures.

 In short, he seems to have seen the human psyche as having a four fold nature (note the personality traits represented by the four function types, feeling, thinking, sensation and intuition from which the Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator was developed– see http://www.personalitypathways.com/type_inventory.html

Why is there still such interest in alchemy, a largely discredited prescientific method of research?

 I believe that there is this internal pressure from the human soul to reunite the varied aspects of our archetypal selves and thus gives continued import to the study of alchemy, not as a means of manipulating the material world but as a means of fully understanding the human relationship with it.

Magic: Just for a moment step outside your perspective.

 

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Fantasy Trip by–Manuel Rodgriguez Sanchez

Carl Jung the 20th century Swiss psychoanalyst suggested that there’s a place between the conscious mind and the soul called the dream–it is a hidden door into the cosmic mind he said. It is something that exists in the twilight, the limen if you will, between the “out there” and the “in here” of our brains. This is the threshold upon which the shaman works his magic, where the healing takes place.

To the Iroquois dreams are a representation of the desires of the soul. To some tribal cultures they are messages from the ancestors, or from the spirit world. To many Christians and Muslims they were and in some ways still are seen as messages from God.

Jung thought that dreams were part of the Individuation process where we each become more fully human–where the “I” is created. Perhaps we dream to create the self? But what is this dream?

One night I thought that I had awakened from my surreal sleeping imaginarium and attempted to manipulate the lingering images so as to get back into it when I realized that I was still dreaming. So I asked myself while in the in the dream, “What is being awake? If I am still in this dream, but think I’m awake, am I really dreaming?” It came to me then that perhaps I wasn’t awake in the rest of my life, but only dreaming. “Am I a dream, dreaming I’m awake, or am I awake dreaming I’m dreaming?”

That was my first lucid dream experience, though at the time I didn’t recognize it as such, but it did shift my perspective a little about what I had been calling consciousness. Dreams then took on a different meaning for me when I realized that they were an in-between state of realities that may actually all take place within an even greater dream–the dream of God. If as Edgar Allan Poe quipped, “Are all we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream?” do we also dream God into reality and if we are dreaming him, is he also dreaming us?

In the Australian Aboriginal cosmology the Rainbow Snake god created the Earth that then created mankind, who in turn recreated the Earth, and all was done within “The Dreaming.” To them this Dreaming continues to this day and in this perspective we are the dreamer and the dream at the same time.

Every story of every creature creates. And according to the physicist Fred Alan Wolf, just as reality is affected by the surrounding energy field, dreams are not made by the dreamer alone either, but by the surrounding field, which in this case can be seen as the people around us. We are all involved to some degree in each other’s stories. When dreaming, we may be writing our own script and in this way each of us is but one dream story of the Dreamtime.

Perhaps we are all standing on the threshold of consciousness and in a lucid dream so to speak–where being awake and being in the dream are superimposed. It may be here that we create what is. We do not devise the objects of reality, though we do beget our experience and meaning for what is there. But because we can only know what we perceive-what we project; we don’t really know what exists outside our own heads.

The Mandala is for me an excellent metaphor for the dream within a dream concept where at the center of its concentric circles lie our selves. In it we are both the center and the rings around it–it represents the whole self, the conscious and unconscious striving for unity. Upon every boundary one stands and sees him self, forward and backward, in and out, above and below, creating and being created. Reality is derived from the center and then collapses upon itself as it becomes ever more aware.

On his way to the Archipelago of Dreams (R.J. Cole, 2011) Robert crossed this limen between worlds and entered the world of the dream where reality is created. In it he was confronted by the archetypes of his race and was forced to reconcile with them. Beyond the veil he discovered the reality of creation and was forced to grow up in its embrace. Robert learned of the dream within the dream and feared awakening within his slumber. This was his ultimate shadow that had stalked him all his life and would end his life as he had known it.

In the land where the Faery Lantern and Jabberwocky lay

 

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Faery Lamplighter– RJ Cole (2002)

In a potted plant sitting obscurely in a corner of the patio behind our house sits a lamp that when night falls begins to glow an eerie blue. White crystals at its base fracture the light and send it helter-skelter across the garden floor eventually being absorbed into the dense forest of green across the miniature meadow. “What is that Grandpa?” Said my Granddaughter one warm spring evening while we sat in the dark before the moon took over the sky and dispelled the eerie shadows of the night. “Ah yes, that’s a Fairy Lamp” I explained. “Ohh, what is that?” she whispered.

“A Faery Lantern, the link between two worlds is like what the dream is to those who sleep and leave the world of light for the world of the night, the world of bright consciousness to the world of dark shadows.”

“The faeries are those images that reside within the dream and guide the dream body through the labyrinth of the inner psyche. Like Dickens’ ghosts of the Christmas Carol they cross through time and solid walls as though they didn’t exist. They are of the intuitive and imaginal world beholding to nothing of the material and rational and yet, and yet, hold the very secret of life, the cradle of our soul.”

“Light the lantern and sleep will overtake you and the fairies will come, dancing and flitting, soaring and roaring through the air with an invitation to follow deeper into the night realm, deeper into the shadows of the unknown.”

It’s mostly a curious world, a mad hatters craziness that can turn on the moment to either the sublime or upon a nightmarish Jabberwocky” I growled and clawed the air menacingly while my granddaughter recoiled in mock fear.

“It’s a place of wizards, wisdom keepers and great ladies, heroes, lovers, martyrs, tricksters, devils and death. It is a world where unicorns still forage and people can take wing over vast green meadows. Here the archetypal male in us all holds his hand to the female we all share and rejoices in the union that eludes us in the waking world.”

“As we travel through the world of the night the shape-shifting creatures of the dark will lure us into the Neverseen, the Land of Faery and introduce us to our true self. Once met and understood we can never ever be the same.”

“What do you think of that?? I queried and looked over at her, but the faeries had already come and taken her through the light of the lamp. I smiled and pulled my jacket against the encroaching cold.

 

 

 

Here she comes!

 

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Yesterday morning I stepped out into the cold half-light of a new dawn scanned the horizon as I frequently do and saw a most enchanting sight. There in the southern sky hung two brilliant stars so close to one another it was as if they were trying to touch.

These bright “stars” of the heavens were Venus and Jupiter symbols of the Feminine and Masculine embracing in the heavens above me.

That same night the Moon took on a red glow as the reflected light from the overbearing masculine Sun was eclipsed by Mother Earth.

“This must be significant” I mused. “But of what?”

And I dreamed that night of a non-coalesced pillar of static standing and vibrating in the middle of the dream space. When I approached and reached forward to find out what it was it revealed nothing. It seemed to promise meaning but gave me nothing.

After waking I continued to ponder both the dream and the waking events of the previous day. “I know there’s something there” I thought. “But what? But what?”

Then it hit me, for days I’d been writing about the Sophia, a visitor in an earlier dream and how she has been showing up in our study of the Magdalene in our Heretics Group, the Women’s March that my wife and one of our daughters attended, the #MeToo movement, media stories of women gaining political influence throughout the world and in my humble attempts at integrating the feminine aspect into the Adult Education programs of the church. I suspect that the pillar was again the Sophia visiting to once again open my mind to what’s going on around me.

Venus and Jupiter in alignment i.e. the feminine and masculine embracing while Mother Earth combines with its maiden Moon adding its light where earlier it was only the masculine light being reflected are all symbols of what’s happening in the world. We are at the dawning of a transformation for humankind.

The old way is resisting the change but change is happening, grinding, shoving, and pushing back against eons of spiritual and psychical imbalance. It is happening and those who embrace it, support it, and work with it will grow while those who resist will shrink and shrivel. The Balance is coming, Wholeness and Oneness is at the threshold invite them in or be trampled as they cross over.

A waking Dream

 

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When visiting the UK not too long ago I found myself one late afternoon wandering the grass-covered ruins of an ancient Abbey. A strange fog had rolled in and masked many parts of the ruins making it look even more hollow and missing in walls than it otherwise would. It was on days like these that it is said things come up from the underworld and reach out for the souls that wander these halls that are no more.

This the land of the White Monks and the Black Death sings a lonely song, but during the Spring when the grass is cut it lays like a carpet across the floor of the great nave ready for the grand noble entrance of Kings and Queens once more. I could hear them walking past, the swishing of their robes, the clank of a Bishop’s Crosier striking the pace against the stone floor through the hall, and the smell of incense riding the foggy swirls descending from high in the roofless ceiling.

For one brief moment I was there, witness to what was and is no more. For one brief moment I transcended the veil of time. A coldness crawled up my back and I shook my head vigorously to dispatch the errant visions, then stood chilled and still, hearing echoes of a past I never knew, yet somehow they had followed me here and lay amongst my own memories forever more.

Magic: Just for a moment step through the door between your perspective and the cosmic mind.

 

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Carl Jung the 20th century Swiss psychoanalyst suggested that there’s a place between the conscious mind and the soul called the dream–it is a hidden door into the cosmic mind he said. It is something that exists in the twilight, the limen if you will, between the “out there” and the “in here” of our brains. This is the threshold upon which the shaman works his magic, where the healing takes place.

To the Iroquois dreams are a representation of the desires of the soul. To some tribal cultures they are messages from the ancestors, or from the spirit world. To many Christians and Muslims they were and in some ways still are seen as messages from God.

Jung thought that dreams were part of the Individuation process where we each become more fully human–where the “I” is created. Perhaps we dream to create the self? But what is this dream?

One night I thought that I had awakened from my sleeping imaginarium and attempted to manipulate the lingering images so as to get back into it when I realized that I was still dreaming. So I asked myself while in the in the dream, “What is being awake? If I am still in this dream, but think I’m awake, am I really dreaming?” It came to me then that perhaps I wasn’t awake in the rest of my life, but only dreaming. “Am I a dream, dreaming I’m awake, or am I awake dreaming I’m dreaming?”

That was my first lucid dream experience, though at the time I didn’t recognize it as such, but it did shift my perspective a little about what I had been calling consciousness. Dreams then took on a different meaning for me when I realized that they were an in-between state of realities that may actually all take place within an even greater dream–the dream of God. If as Edgar Allan Poe quipped, “Are all we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream?” do we also dream God into reality and if we are dreaming him, is he also dreaming us?

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In the Australian Aboriginal cosmology the Rainbow Snake god created the Earth that then created mankind, who in turn recreated the Earth, and all was done within “The Dreaming.” To them this Dreaming continues to this day and in this perspective we are the dreamer and the dream at the same time.

Every story of every creature creates. And according to the physicist Fred Alan Wolf, just as reality is affected by the surrounding energy field, dreams are not made by the dreamer alone either, but by the surrounding field, which in this case can be seen as the people around us. We are all involved to some degree in each other’s stories. When dreaming, we may be writing our own script and in this way each of us is but one dream story of the Dreamtime.

Perhaps we are all standing on the threshold of consciousness and in a lucid dream so to speak–where being awake and being in the dream are superimposed. It may be here that we create what is. We do not devise the objects of reality, though we do beget our experience and meaning for what is there. But because we can only know what we perceive-what we project; we don’t really know what exists outside our own heads.

The Mandala is for me an excellent metaphor for the dream within a dream concept where at the center of its concentric circles lie our selves. In it we are both the center and the rings around it–it represents the whole self, the conscious and unconscious striving for unity. Upon every boundary one stands and sees him self, forward and backward, in and out, above and below, creating and being created. Reality is derived from the center and then collapses upon itself as it becomes ever more aware.

On his way to the Archipelago (in the book The Archipelago of Dreams) Robert crossed this limen between worlds and entered the world of the dream where reality is created. In it he was confronted by the archetypes of his race and was forced to reconcile with them. Beyond the veil he discovered the reality of creation and was forced to grow up in its embrace. Robert learned of the dream within the dream and feared awakening within his slumber. This was his ultimate shadow that had stalked him all his life and would end his life as he had known it.

And the world seems right

 

 

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Arthur Rackham ~ The Fairies of the Serpentine ~ 1906

 

 

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”

–William Butler Yeats

 

On my meditation walks I am often moved by the life going on about me– boys and girls with hockey sticks and skates battling street pucks at dusk, flocks of screeching Crows nesting in trees, the smile of the crescent moon with the wink of Venus below her, on a warm night crickets and barking dogs, on a cold and crisp one nothing but silence and the sound of my own footsteps. Sometimes a breeze whips through the branches and rustles the leaves and I hear the raucous laughter of a party just seen through the picture window of the house across the street.

And the world seems right.

But on other nights my mind is disturbed with its thoughts and whirls like a demented vortex and I hear nothing but my own voice. It’s a boring voice droning on and on about inane this’s and that’s and burying the peace of the night in rubble.

And nothing in the world seems right.

I long for the magic I’ve so often felt on so many earlier sojourns through the dark, but tonight it’s not to be. This is when I cry out to the dark denizens of the netherworld, “Come oh magic creatures of the imaginal and entertain me. Bring to me your mystery, your awe, your wonder, and your hidden treasure– make it better than it is.”

That night’s dreams brought me headstones and skulls, darkness and gray empty fields– a reflection of the mood carried back from the earlier journey. And then I ran across the poem by Yeats and I thought, ‘It’s not the fairies of the land he is calling to, but those of the inner soul who are entreated to crawl out from the rubbish and dance with me once more’.

And the world seems right again.

Dreaming yourself into existence: Become lucid within your waking dream

 

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“I am going to teach you the first step to power,” don Juan said, beginning his instruction in the art of dreaming. “I am going to teach you how to set up dreaming.”

“What does it mean to set up dreaming?”

“To set up dreaming means to have a precise and practical command over the general situation of a dream. For example, you may dream that you are in your classroom. To set up dreaming means that you do not let the dream slip into something else. You do not jump from the classroom to the mountains, for instance. In other words, you control the view of the classroom, and do not let it go until you want to.”

“But is it possible to do that?”

“Of course it is possible. This control is no different from the control we have over any situation in our daily lives. Sorcerers are used to it, and get it every time they want or need to. In order to get used to it yourself, you must start by doing something very simple. Tonight, in your dreams, you must look at your hands.”

–Don Juan to Carlos Castaneda in “The Art of Dreaming”

 

Of course the shaman (or sorcerer) Don Juan was alluding to the phenomenon of lucid dreaming i.e. becoming conscious within a dream and being aware that you’re still dreaming. In this state one can actually direct the events and outcome of the dream.

But he could just as easily have been talking about what you and I call the ‘waking state’ dream, the every day activity that we call reality.

Most Psychologists believe that we all project our thought images (ideas, desires, expectations, judgments, feelings, fears, etc.) onto the events and images of the world around us– there’s a world of objects and events and then there’s what we make of those, what meaning we give them and how we then respond to that meaning.

Basically we make up our own reality, it’s true! Research on the accuracy of witnesses has shown time and again that what was seen is often not what was actually there i.e. the mood, attention, and past experiences of the witness affects what is reported.

Even the choice of words to describe an event is affected by the witness’ past experience with those words. Ones experience about another persons ethnicity, age, size and physical features all contribute to the reality seen and the reality reported.

Unless properly trained in the art and science of observation we create our own reality and even then such things as unconscious motivations and undetected prejudices will affect the reality created.

Dreams are like this as well. They are the images, feelings, and symbols of our unconscious mind playing out in our unconscious sleep state and the unconscious attributes of ourselves that creates a reality within the dream. To interpret them in the waking state requires a conscious understanding of ones inner symbolism and how that is projected onto the outward reality. This is not an easy task and very often requires the aid of observers outside the mind.

Dreams are all about symbolism, the meaning projected onto each image, each event, and each person, or animal in the dream. This is also the reality of our waking state in that we almost never see reality for what it is.

In short, you and I “dream” our reality into existence. We may actually always be dreaming.

And just as with the lucid dream within the sleeping dream one can create ones meaning and outcomes beyond those that the waking dream seems to be presenting. For example, if you don’t like the current events of your waking dream life, then change them, create another reality, dream another response set to the reality about you. In other words, become lucid within your waking dream– start noticing that you are indeed asleep, then wake up!

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For more on Lucid Dreams try this link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-superhuman-mind/201212/lucid-dreaming-and-self-realization