All the World’s a Stage, and the Sun and Moon merely Players

This morning I woke up from a very difficult dream. I had spent most of the night crying in my sleep. Here’s what happened: 

In my dream my dad and my brother were going to all these different events and giving speeches about everything that was wrong with me and why I deserved to be rejected. I sat at all of them, trying to plead with them and convince them otherwise. No one listened to me, and I cried as I saw them give speech after speech on everything that was “bad” and “wrong” about me.

Oddly enough, my mom was by my side at every one of these events with me. Sometimes in their speeches they would briefly mention how bad and wrong she was too, although the focus was mostly on me.

When I woke up, I felt very upset and saddened by what I had experienced over the course of the night. 

What really stood out to me, though, was how my mom was on my side at every point during this dream. It’s really not like her to stand by me (in fact, she would have been the most likely of any of them to give a speech like that attacking me).

So I had to ask myself, what could this apparently small detail mean? I was sure it was significant.

Pretty quickly, it occurred to me that maybe it was my unconscious trying to show me the way my anima and animus related to each other. 

The Marriage of the Sun and Moon

The anima/animus was a concept developed by Carl Jung which in a sense, describes the anima as the part of our psyche which can be thought of as being “feminine.” The anima is associated with the unconscious, the body, and our feeling and emotional states, as well as our desires and needs.

The animus, on the other hand, is believed to be the part of our psyche which analytic psychologists associate with the masculine. The animus is thought to relate to our conscious mind, our rational thought processes, as well as order, reason and logic.

Although most of us within a given culture will tend to have these basic conceptions of what our anima/animus are like, the way that they actually present themselves within a given individual’s psyche is highly personal, dependent on life experience and unconscious psychic material.

I think this dream was trying to show me the way that my inner masculine or conscious mind relates to my inner feminine, or emotional/feeling part of me. 

I saw how my masculine side was in fact very abusive to the feminine parts of me. The “rational” conscious side tends to dominate and hurt the emotional feeling side. It has all of these unrealistic expectations about how things “should” be, and it punishes and hurts the parts of me that refuse to comply.

I began to see how I have internalized the roles that I saw my mother and father play. I introjected their beliefs and patterns of behavior, and in turn had my inner masculine/feminine adopt the same roles within myself.

One of the unhealthy ways in which this has manifested for me has been that I have very little ability to care for myself. I refuse to listen to what my body is telling me, or to accept what I am feeling. 

Instead, I tell myself: “No. You need to work harder. You don’t deserve to rest until you’ve done better. You don’t deserve anything until you’ve achieved what I tell you to. Not until you stop being bad.” 

This usually results in me forcing myself to do what I don’t want to do. I hurt myself this way because I’ve long believed that’s the only way to “discipline” the parts of me that are “wrong” and “bad.” These bad parts are always the feeling parts, that part of me which has needs and desires and wants to rest and feel okay.

I’m starting to understand that my animus does not necessarily possess some kind of truly evil intent toward the anima. The attitude of my animus, in fact, reflects the very same beliefs which my father has held toward my mother. He has always tried to “help” her, but in a way that reflects some pretty toxic underlying beliefs about her (and possibly about women in general). 

My mother has been perceived, in his eyes, as being: unintelligent, even stupid; incompetent and incapable; crazy, confused and irrational; and even bad, wrong, and unwilling. 

This, in turn, is perceived as requiring his need to act to control and dominate and coerce her into “seeing the truth” and accepting the superiority of his more rational and “right” values and ways of being.

Even though this is obviously insulting, selfish and even maybe abusive, I can see that there is a genuine belief that he is doing his best to “protect” and “provide” for her. It is based on a perceived inferiority on the part of the feminine in general and my mother in particular.

Just as my father treated my mother, my “thinking” conscious self now treats my unconscious (my body, my feelings and my desires) in very much the same way.  

It seems to genuinely believe in the fundamental “wrongness” of my feminine or feeling side. As crazy as it might seem, it wants to protect it, and it does so the only way it knows how: by bullying it into doing what it thinks is “right.”  

The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict.”

Carl Jung

I’m starting to understand how this impacts my relationships, as well. If I can’t have my inner parts of myself relate to each other in a way that is positive and healthy, I’ll never be able to have a relationship that is any better. 

If I don’t do anything to shift the roles inhabited by my anima and animus, then I will continue to recreate these same roles in all of my romantic relationships that I may enter in the future.

This dream seemed to be the way my unconscious was trying to get me to see what I needed to change in myself before I could move beyond these patterns in my life. 

I can see now that I must begin to make these changes starting from within. I know and trust from experience that if I can do this, then the problems I’ve experienced in the outer world will begin to shift naturally as a result of the changes in my inner world. 

As above, so below. As within, so without.”

The Emerald Tablet

Dissolution

Dissolution -- The Second Phase of Alchemy

The second phase of alchemy, dissolution, comes after the fiery heat of calcination which incinerated the ideas we once had about who we are and our place in the world.

Once the ego has been suitably reduced to ashes, we then become ready to commence the dissolving process of the Great Work. 

In laboratory alchemy, this process involved adding water or some other kind of solvent to the ashy powder left over from the burning of calcination.

In terms of psychospiritual alchemy, we now come into contact with the waters of the unconscious. Here, it is as if we are drowned in all of our long-repressed emotions, swamped by our most painful memories, and shaken by the most terrifying of our latent fears and anxieties.

These previous unconscious elements are the deepest, most obscured parts of ourselves which we have worked hard to keep hidden from both others and ourselves for an entire lifetime. These repressed psychic contents are matters of profound consequence, and addressing them fully is a matter not to be taken lightly. 


We have seen that the previous phase of calcination tends to involve a kind of destructive fire which rages through our lives, consuming everything it touches as it burns.

However, it is in this next stage of dissolution where we begin our first steps toward conscious awareness of what is truly happening to us. 

It is during this phase when we must truly come to terms with our lives and all of the losses we have experienced. In dissolution, we start to deal with our real, lived experiences and our deeply felt sense of what it means to grieve, not merely as an intellectual exercise, but in our hearts and through our bodies. 

This process requires that we surrender to the often painful truth of our current realities. We must learn to let go of any grasping or clinging to what our ego has desired or has falsely believed to be true. 

In the stage of dissolution, we are being asked to surrender and come face to face with the contents of our own souls as they truly are.

The Dance of Sulfur

After Bellows Breath, you may want to follow up with another practice called the Dance of Sulfur.

Sulfur is a yellow powder which the alchemists believed symbolized the active masculine principle of fire. It was often used in laboratory alchemy in the form of sulfuric acid (also known to them as vitriol).

The Dance of Sulfur is an exercise to increase energy and circulate it in the body. Not only that, it is ideal for taking the emotions which arise in Roasting Cinnabar and the energy raised in Bellows Breath and expressing them in a healthy way. We can use the Dance of Sulfur to let go of pent up rage, aggression and other emotions that have been suppressed or held in our bodies for too long.

close up shot of blue flame
Sulfur fire burns blue

HOW TO PRACTICE

  1. To begin, you can put on some music (some say angry or aggressive rock music works best) and start to dance. You can try any other type of aerobic movement that will increase your heart rate, like jogging in place or jumping rope, but I prefer to dance, as it really allows you to get into the music and feel the powerful feelings which have been brought up by other alchemical practices. Aim for at least 20 minutes of movement in this practice.
  2. Try to leave thought and the conscious, rational mind behind. As much as you can, drop your awareness into your body, feel all the emotions coming up as the energy grows stronger and rises within you.
  3. Once you feel you are in the moment and present in your body, start to imagine intense, fiery energy rising up in waves from below. You can then direct that fire energy to any areas of tension or pain in your body (either physical or emotional). Let the flames wash over you, consuming the stagnant ego structures of your past, and burning up and releasing any ideas, emotions or behavior you want to let go of.

This practice, along with the previous two, may be used alone or in conjunction. If you have the time, I recommend creating a ritual that combines Roasting Cinnabar, Bellows Breath, and the Dance of Sulfur (in that order).

When I have done this set of practices together in the past, I like to say a prayer or set an intention (whatever works for you), and I light a red candle to honor the rage and pain of the past, and to symbolize what will be consumed and released during the ritual. You may also want to conclude this set of practices with a ritual bath (salt baths are great for this). Visualize the salt water cleansing you of any remnants of anger or stuck energy, then picture all of these troubles leaving you for good as they are washed down the drain at the very end.

Roasting Cinnabar

A good Calcination ritual to start with is known as Roasting Cinnabar.

This meditative process is related to the work done by alchemists in the laboratory, working with real chemicals.

In this process, alchemists would would roast the mineral known as “Dragon’s Blood,” or Cinnabar, which is a red-colored sulfide of mercury. When roasted over an open flame,  drops of pure liquid mercury are released from the cinnabar and fall down into the ashes.

The purpose of this meditative process is to get us in touch with our mostly unconscious judgements and reactionary behaviors that serve to protect and enhance our egos. We must become aware of these forces within our psyches before we are able to release them to make room for our true or higher Self.

Pure Cinnabar powder

HOW TO PRACTICE

  1. Start by entering a state of relaxation, one in which you feel detached from your worries and daily concerns or problems. You can do this by focusing on your breath, by noting the “in” or the “out” breath or by counting each breath as it passes. You may also use a mantra of your choice to bring your attention inward. When you find you are relaxed, move on to the next step.
  2. Slowly count backwards from 10 down to 1. While counting down, continue to relax each part of your body, starting at the crown of your head and moving down to your toes. Take care to make each breath slower and deeper than the last.
  3. Visualize brilliant red cinnabar roasting over an open flame. As you do so, let your mind travel back to any moment of your life where you felt humiliated or enraged by someone else. Try to notice the true cause of your intense feelings—they are typically tied up in a sense of losing control, of not having any power over yourself, and of your ego or sense of self being diminished.
  4. Observe your thoughts as they stream through your mind. Notice the ways in which you reacted to being hurt. This can include such things as promising yourself you will never be vulnerable and risk getting hurt again, or lashing out at someone else to soothe the ego’s pain. Re-evaluate how you responded to these painful circumstances. Ask yourself, is this the best way to respond? How would my higher or wiser self choose to respond instead?
  5. Most importantly, allow yourself to experience all of your difficult feelings. Avoid suppressing and repressing your pain. It never truly goes away, and there is much wisdom to be found in the depths of your own darkness.
  6. Notice all of the insights and wisdom that come up as you do this. Picture this to be the mercury being released from the cinnabar. Imagine yourself gathering up all of this precious mercury into a glass bottle as it is released from the rocks of cinnabar.
Mercury
Mercury in his element

This mercury, this purified thought, is now yours to use as you wish.

Liquid mercury

Calcination

There are seven operations in the process of alchemy, the first of which is calcination.

This is the process of burning through the dross of the ego we have built up over the course of our lives, so that our true self may be released and expressed.

This is not an easy experience to go through, which is why so many of us avoid it. It often seems safer to cling to our egos, no matter how much suffering they may cause us, than to face the delusions we have accepted and the lies we have built into our personalities.

This process requires us to go through the fires of hell in order to emerge renewed. We must experience all of our pent up anger, frustration and rage before we can move past this stage.

We are forced to come to terms with some of our most difficult emotions in a process which has been referred to as “the death of the profane.” The false self must die in order that the true Self may live.

For there is no room in the psyche for two rulers. The false ego drains our energy, asking us to focus on superficial qualities or objects. We may focus on our physical appearance or have an obsession with material possessions and financial success. All of which obscures our essence, our higher self which is in touch with something greater than ourselves, and out of which meaning and purpose are born.

Some alchemical practices for working with our egos and moving the calcination process forward are Roasting Cinnabar, Bellows Breath and the Dance of Sulfur. It is important to recognize that alchemy is not an abstract, theoretical mental discipline. It involves all the dimensions of our being, and as such is something that much be practiced.

You can choose to do one alchemical practice at once, or as I have done, combine several into a longer calcination ritual. I will describe the practicalities of these processes more in depth in coming posts here.

Nigredo: The Black Phase of Alchemy

Nigredo, Albedo, Rubedo: The 3 Phases of Alchemy
Nigredo, Albedo, Rubedo: The 3 Phases of Alchemy

Alchemists have generally divided the Great Work into three distinct phases, referred to by their color: the nigredo (black phase), albedo (white phase), and rubedo (red phase). 

In earlier times, some also spoke of the citrinitas (yellow phase) that was said to occur between the white and red phases. However, this term is less frequently used by the more contemporary alchemists of today.

The different colors of alchemy were based on actual, physical alterations in the appearance of the material worked on in laboratory experiments. These colors, however, are also evocative symbolically of the emotional tone which characterizes each phase of the work on a psycho-spiritual level. 

In laboratory work, the nigredo is a time when the prima materia begins to decompose or rot. On both the physical and psycho spiritual levels, it contains the lesser phases of Calcination and Dissolution within it. This is the time for the mortification of our very soul, and the time where our spirit most deeply feels the anguish of separation from truth.

The putrefactio is considered to be by far the longest and most difficult phase of the magnum opus. It is a time when we must let all the dross drop away. It is often known as the “dark night of the soul,” describing a time when we are forced to confront all that is dark and difficult within ourselves, and ultimately to let go of our attachment to our shadow, releasing the past. 

Here, we are being asked to let go of all within us and outside of us that is false, inauthentic, and not in full alignment with the truth of who we are. This is a truth as it exists on a soul level, far beyond the ego and its limited ideas or illusions about who we “should” be. 

It is a process made far more difficult by the resistance and defenses we put up against it. Many of us will resist for years, most often for much longer, remaining unwilling to accept that our lives, as we know them, are over. Few of us are quick to grasp the fact that there is new life waiting for us if we would only let go of the limited vision of existence we usually try so desperately to cling to.

It is only when we become willing to surrender that the alchemical process truly begins. Only when we are willing to die do we have the chance to one day be reborn. 

Prima Materia

The Prima Materia, or First Matter, is a difficult concept to define. It has been said that the First Matter is both everything and nothing.

According to D. W. Hauck , “It is the primal One Thing that existed before time, as well as the primordial chaos that contains all possibilities.” It is said that the First Matter carries the germ or seeds of all things that every existed or ever could exist in the future.

In the Emerald Tablet, the “One Thing” refers to the Prima Materia. This was then acted upon by the thoughts or word of the One Mind to create the material reality we can observe with our senses.

The Egyptian hieroglyph for the sound “kh” also symbolized the concept of the First Matter. It was the first letter used in the word khem , which means “black matter which is alive.” [It also the root of the word alchemy.] Other possible translations of this word are “placenta,” “fertile dirt,” or “living black soil.”

It can be thought of as the unmanifest, the part of God or spirit that is all potential, that contains all possibilities.

It the substance that we start with, the raw material that is perfected through the entire alchemical process known as the “Great Work.”

Bellows Breath

(Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

Bellows Breath is an active meditation that can be used to increase conscious awareness and raise energy in the body. Practitioners of Kundalini Yoga may recognize this as what they call the “Breath of Fire.” It can be used to release stuck energy in the body, oxygenating the blood, and expanding lung capacity.

HOW TO PRACTICE

  1. Begin by sitting with your legs crossed. Then focus on the energy in your body around your navel.
  2. Keeping your mouth closed, begin by inhaling and exhaling rapidly through your nose. The in and out breaths should be equal in length, but as short as possible. As you exhale, push the air out of your lungs quickly, similar to a bellows used to start a fire. Try for between 2-3 breaths per second.
  3. After a few minutes, you may start to experience a warm energy rising from your navel up to your head. Try to experience this rising energy without any judgements or assumptions about you are feeling. Just feel the energy spreading in your body.
  4. You may choose to imagine that as the energy rises, it is clearing away physical or emotional blocks in your body. You can visualize this fire energy moving through your body and burning away any toxins, negativity, stuck emotions, or past behaviors, leaving only a healthy body and mind behind.

The Age of Horus

On December 21, 2020, a Great Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn occurred at 0 degrees of Aquarius.

For some, this marked the official beginning of the Age of Aquarius. However, others debate this and assert other dates as being the true beginning of the age and the resetting of the cosmic clock.

Regardless of the exact date, I think many of us can feel there is a certain something in the air that shows there are indeed noticeable shifts happening.

The Age of Aquarius is lauded by many as the beginning of a New Age of progress for humanity, when the people will take control of the Earth, truth will be revealed, and a huge wave of individuals will experience great shifts in consciousness and expanded awareness.

However, others believe that in this age, religion (as in the Age of Pisces) will be replaced by knowledge (or facts or data) as the main tool used by secretive, powerful elites to control the masses.

But my favorite explanation of this time is found in equating this time with the Age, or Aeon, of Horus, as pictured here in the Aeon card of the Thoth tarot.

As the son of Isis and Osiris, Horus represents the Child archetype, the salt of earth which combines the qualities of spirit and soul from both sides of his lineage.

This fact points to the importance of what precedes us, and the legacies which we have inherited. To move into the Aeon of Horus, we will have to transition out of the Age of Osiris, or the time of the Father, with its patriarchal perspective and value system. It was an age concerned with control and dominance, as well as counterbalancing themes of sacrifice, suffering and death.

Before this, came the Age of Isis, or the Mother. During this time, matriarchies ruled the Earth. The land herself, and the beauty and pleasures of the body, were then the object of worship.

The Aeon of Horus is expected to be an age of alchemical transformation, in which the inherited qualities of previous ages are integrated and wholly embodied in our selves.

Creating the future does not involve a rejection of our past, but a careful examination of our full inheritance along with choices made of what we will choose to embody and carry forward.

As a feminist, I strongly believe that creation of a new world does not involve rejection of the masculine in any way. The feminism I believe in rejects only the patriarchy and its rigid systems of dominance and control. It is this rigidity that keeps both men and women locked into our respective roles, living as one-sided attempts as human beings.

Integration of the masculine into the feminine, or the animus with the anima, is the only way to create new life, and a new world.

As a result, we are being called to embody our inheritance in a way that honors the fullness of our humanity. That integrates our thoughts and our feelings, our spirits with our bodies, the forces of Eros and Logos, drawing strength from both chaos & order, structure & freedom.

It is only when we have integrated our dual and complementary ways of being that we will know that we have arrived. It is then that we may experience the joys promised by the initiation of this new age.

The Caduceus, or “Staff of Hermes”

The Caduceus is one of the most well-known symbols in the world today. However, the true story and significance of this symbol remains obscured to the vast majority.

Most of us will recognize the Caduceus as a symbol belonging to the medical community. If asked, most would likely say that this symbol was adopted by doctors and other medical professionals as their symbol representing the power of healing, and that its origins can be traced to Asclepius, the ancient Greek physician.

Others, however, dispute this theory, arguing that in reality, what we know as the Caduceus is of much greater antiquity, having been traced back even further to the Greek legend Hermes Trismegistus.

There is a Greek legend which tells the story of how he came to possess what has also been called “the Staff of Hermes.”

It begins with a Greek seer named Tiresias, who discovered two mating snakes in the middle of the road on Mount Kyllene. When Tiresias went to separate the snakes with his staff, he was turned into a woman. He remained a woman for seven more years, until again he encountered and separated another pair of snakes.

The powerful staff, together with the snakes, was then hidden in a cave on the mountain; it is said that it is here where Hermes would eventually be born, and would make his home.

It is often thought that the snakes represent the life force, or inner creative power within man (and woman). Some even speculate that, since the caduceus looks quite similar to the double-helix structure of DNA, this could be clue hinting at the possibility that Thoth/Hermes may have somehow manipulated the structure of the human genome to advance our progress and hurry us toward the future evolution of humanity.

These are all interesting ideas, but the possibilities are not limited to these two options. I believe there are many ways of reading this myth, especially in light of certain alchemical principles.

I have my own inclinations when it comes to interpreting the symbolism of this mythic origins story, but I’d love to hear what you think.

Do the snakes and staff (and wings, in some versions) have any personal significance for you? What does it mean to heal or be healed, and how does the symbolism of the Caduceus represent that?