sexta-feira, 11 de maio de 2018

Nigredo - finding self-knowledge

The wise man is not surprised by death
he is always ready to leave.
La Fontaine
This melancholic state is so powerful
that, according to scientists and doctors,
it can attract demons to the body,
even to such an extent
that one can get into mental confusion or get visions.


In the alchemical sense, Nigredo, or blackness, means putrefaction, decomposition.

Activation of the inner fire occurs by the penetration of the external fire, so the matter starts to putrefy. The body is reduced to its primal matter from which it originally arose.

Psychologically, nigredo is a process of directing oneself to find self-knowledge.

There is a focus, the problem is given full attention and reduced to its core. This is not done so much in an intellectual way, but especially by feeling the emotions. The confrontation with the inner reality is often painful, and can lead to depression. But once in the depth of the darkness, with the discovery of the seed of the problem, the seed in the ‘prima materia’, the white light is born (=albedo, whiteness, the next phase). A state of rest arises. Insight into the problem has been gained, it has been worked out emotionally, and knowledge arises on how to handle it in a more positive way and to build a more pure attitude.
In analytical psychology, the term became a metaphor 'for the dark night of the soul, when an individual confronts the shadow within.

 (Basilius Valentinus, Azoth, Paris, 1659)


As a student of alchemy, Carl Jung (and his followers) 'compared the "black work" of the alchemists (the nigredo) with the often highly critical involvement experienced by the ego, until it accepts the new equilibrium brought about by the creation of the self'. Jungians interpreted nigredo in two main psychological senses.
The first sense represented a subject's initial state of undifferentiated unawareness, 'the first nigredo, that of the unio naturalis, is an objective state, visible from the outside unconscious state of non-differentiation between self and object, consciousness and the unconscious'. Here the subject is unaware of the unconscious; i.e. the connection with the instincts'.

In the second sense, 'the nigredo of the process of individuation on the other hand is a subjectively experienced process brought about by the subject's painful, growing awareness of his shadow aspects'. It could be described as a moment of maximum despair, that is a prerequisite to personal development. As individuation unfolds, so 'confrontation with the shadow produces at first a dead balance, a standstill that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective or even impossible...nigredo, tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia'. Here is 'the darkest time, the time of despair, disillusionment, envious attacks; the time when Eros and Superego are at daggers drawn, and there seems no way forward...nigredo, the blackening'.
Only subsequently would come 'an enantiodromia; the nigredo gives way to the albedo...the ever deepening descent into the unconscious suddenly becomes illumination from above'

Further steps of the alchemical opus include such images as albedo (whiteness), citrinitas (yellowness), and rubedo (redness). Jung also found psychological equivalents for many other alchemical concepts, with 'the characterization of analytic work as an opus; the reference to the analytic relationship as a vas, vessel or container; the goal of the analytic process as the coniunctio, or union of conflicting opposites'.


The planet that rules nigredo is Saturn. Its alchemical symbol is used, like Mercurius, as a symbol of chaos, the prima materia as rough stone, and as the philosopher’s stone. These are all symbols for man at the beginning of the alchemical process. Saturn, with his traditional scythe and hourglass, is the god of death and putrefaction, from which new life will arise. The scythe is another tool for penetration, as is the lance and the sword. Saturn is the philosopher’s lead. He is the god that can cause melancholy and devilish visions. ‘Melancholia’ is another term for nigredo.

Saturn is also a god of fertility. Therefore "our black earth is fertile earth", an alchemical expression to express the transformation of death into new life, which is also clearly depicted in the thirteenth tarot card. The putrefaction is a necessary phase to start a new beginning. Life itself is a cycle of death and birth, ever creating new life, giving man the opportunity to work on himself and strife to improve his condition.

The alchemists say that nigredo lasts forty days. Forty days has a symbolic value. Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert. There are forty days of fasting between Easter and Ascension Day. The Israelites wandered for forty days in the desert. Saint Antonius spent forty years in the Sahara desert, being plagued by visions of extreme erotic scenes and devils.

"Putrefaction is so effective that it destroys the old nature and form of the rotting bodies; it transmutes them into a new state of being to give them a totally new fruit. Everything that has live, dies; everything that is dead putrefies and finds a new life." (Pernety, 1758)


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