The Sleeping Beauty


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Lecture 6


Beyond the Brain Conference, Cambridge, 1995

Copyright © Anne Baring

The Sleeping Beauty

I'd like to start on a personal note - with an experience that I had when I was 11 - an experience of leaving my body. I was dozing on my bed one hot summer day when I became aware of an intense purple light in the room. Suddenly, I felt my eyes closed by what felt like an irresistible power. The bed beneath me opened as if it were cut by a knife. In terror I struggled to open my eyes, shout for help, move my arms and legs, but my body refused to respond. I was pushed down through the opening and the bed closed over me. I found myself going through a long tunnel with a rushing and roaring noise like an avalanche or a waterfall which absolutely terrified me. Suddenly, I was ejected from this tunnel into total silence. I heard a voice say to me: "I Am." It was going to say something else but my fear cut it short and I shall never know what the rest of the sentence might have been. I found myself re-entering the tunnel and plunged once more into the roaring, deafening vortex of sound, emerging from it to find myself lying in my bed, thankfully alive in a familiar world. As you can imagine, this experience set the trajectory of my life in terms of trying to find out what that voice was, what that experience meant - and eventually, what consciousness was. So, it was that experience, so long ago, which has ultimately brought me to this conference.
----- Looking back now, I can see that this event precipitated me into a dimension of consciousness that other people did not know about and that I might never have discovered if it had not happened to me. This secret knowledge became the foundation of my own individual myth - what throughout my life has held supreme meaning for me. I am coming to this talk from this inner experience, from an awareness that a wider, deeper consciousness than our own may be trying to reach us, trying to make itself known to us.
----- I have chosen as an opening slide this picture of a man putting his head beyond the edge of a familiar universe, going beyond the space/time barrier and gazing in wonder at another dimension of reality. So here is an image of exploration, an image of breaking through, an image of quest and discovery. I think we are today in our understanding of reality where the Portuguese explorers were in the fifteenth century when they set out on their great sea voyages - that is to say - we are moving from a flat earth to a round earth image of reality. -----
  As I was preparing this talk, I came across a sentence in a book by Bede Griffiths called Return to the Centre. This is what he wrote:

The evolution of matter from the beginning leads to the evolution of consciousness in man; it is the universe itself which becomes conscious in man…It is the inner movement of the Spirit, immanent in nature, which brings about the evolution of matter and life into consciousness. (1)

       I find this an immensely exciting idea because it revolutionises our view of nature and of spirit. I believe this understanding, so beautifully expressed by him, is the basis of a new paradigm that is coming into being. Consciousness seems to be like a plant, an organic growth, which has its roots in an unknown depth. Its flowering is a potential within us - a potential that we have still to experience, that only a few pioneers of consciousness have experienced. As we evolve, so we become intelligible to ourselves; as we grow, so we experience the true nature of reality.
----- So the great questions in my mind over the last twenty years have been: where did our present dualistic view of reality originate? When did we split life into two polarities, the one masculine, the other feminine? I believe our view of reality has been formed by two powerful myths, which I shall come to in a moment. Because of their profound influence on previous civilisations and, through them, our own, we have come to divide life or reality into two aspects - spirit and nature, mind and matter. But, as I hope to show in this talk, I believe these are arbitrary divisions, whose origin may be found in the far older experience of our separation from nature, which has been a painful but necessary phase of our evolution.
        Partly because of this experience of separation and partly because of the accelerated development of the mind in the last 5000 years, human consciousness has also come to be divided in two - into mind and soul, head and heart. We are now virtually unconscious of our soul and our connection to the greater matrix of nature out of which we have evolved. It is difficult for us to speak to each other as people spoke to each other in the past, because of our fear of appearing non-rational. A part of ourselves is almost speechless, autistic. Today we live in our head, in our mind, in what we believe is the supremely conscious, most interesting and powerful part of ourselves. Nature, soul and heart - the realm of the non-rational - have been left out of the equation. Yet, I believe that in the story of the Sleeping Beauty, the Prince and the Sleeping Beauty symbolise these two aspects of our consciousness which belong together as bridegroom and bride.
----- If I were to ask, "What is beyond the brain?" I would answer, "the lost realm of soul." In the past, the word soul carried meaning in a culture and the greatest artists, poets and mystics were engaged in connecting people with their soul. Today, however, the word may convey nothing to a culture which is focused entirely on the external world and knows nothing of an inner life, an inner, imaginal life. For such a culture, which might be described as a purely sensate one, in the sense that the philosopher Pitirim Sorokin used that word, (2) focussed on the experience of the senses alone, the soul is asleep, dissociated, unable to communicate with the surface consciousness that directs our lives. Our brilliant technological culture with its ruthlessness and its brutality and ugliness inflicts intolerable stress on us and it reflects, I think, a dissociated, unbalanced consciousness and a loss of soul.
----- Fairy tales are very old: they portray the landscape of the soul; they speak with the voice of the soul and carry many levels of meaning. Who can say where the story of the Sleeping Beauty originated and how it was transmitted from generation to generation? It may be descended from long-forgotten Bronze Age rituals - rituals which celebrated the sacred marriage of heaven and earth and others which mourned the annual death of the life of the earth and its regeneration in spring. The sacred marriage of king and queen, prince and princess is an image which is also woven into the rich tapestry of hidden or lost mystical traditions - Alchemy, Gnosticism and Kabbalah.
----- I see this magical story as a metaphor for our own time and the urgent need for a marriage between our head and our heart, between our too-literal, linear mind which knows nothing of a deeper ground of consciousness, and our imaginal, instinctual, creative soul. This beautiful painting of the Sleeping Beauty by Burne-Jones conveys, I think, an image of the soul. This deep instinctual part of ourselves which is the matrix of our ability to imagine and create, works through the principle of attraction. It is through our instinctual soul and its longing for relationship with what is "other" that we are most closely connected to nature and the Kosmos. It is imagination and instinct which draw us into connection with a reality beyond the reach of mind, acting rather like a plug connecting us to the socket of that deeper reality.
----- The Prince, I suggest, stands for the solar principle of consciousness - the questing human mind which seeks to explore, discover, understand, penetrate to the heart of reality and who, in this story, is seeking the lost feminine counterpart of himself. The Sleeping Beauty carries the lunar principle of soul, the neglected feeling values (eros) which are undeveloped or inarticulate in relation to mind, and have, so to speak, lain under a spell for centuries. From another perspective, the story can be seen as a metaphor of the reconciliation of spirit and nature or the reunion of the masculine and feminine aspects of spirit which have been progressively sundered during the last four thousand years.
----- I am sure you will remember the story of the princess who explored the unused rooms of the castle on her fifteenth birthday and came across an old woman turning and turning her spinning wheel. Attempting to take the spindle from the old woman, she pricked her finger on it and at once fell into a deep sleep, so fulfilling the curse placed on her by the uninvited thirteenth fairy at her christening - a curse that was mitigated by another fairy who remitted that death sentence to a hundred years' sleep. The whole court fell asleep with her. A great forest of rambler roses - an impenetrable hedge of thorns - grew up around her and for a hundred years, legends were told about the Sleeping Princess who lay hidden at the heart of the forest until the day when a prince, hearing of the legend, determined to set out to find her. Many suitors had perished in the attempt to penetrate the hedge of thorns but, the story says, the thorns turned to roses for him, the way through the hedge opened and he came to where she lay sleeping and awakened her with a kiss. As she awoke, the whole court came to life and preparations began for their marriage - for all the best loved fairy tales end in marriage.
----- I see this story as a metaphor about the loss and recovery of our soul and about the marriage between our head and our heart, between our analytical, literal mind and the deep, feminine ground of our soul. But the hedge of thorns shows what an impenetrable barrier lies between them and how difficult it is to get through it. I suggest that the hedge of thorns symbolises all the belief systems we have built up over hundreds, if not thousands of years: deeply rooted religious beliefs about the nature of God and our fallen and sinful human nature and scientific beliefs about what we call matter: beliefs about what spirit is and beliefs about what nature is. These belief systems, deeply imprinted on us over generations, stand between us and our soul and make it almost impossible for us to reach below the surface of our everyday consciousness and relate to and value the dimension of feeling. Instinctive consciousness does not communicate primarily through words, through language, but rather through feelings, intuitions, images of all kinds, and through emotions and dreams. If we do not pay attention to these, there will be no way in which these feelings, intuitions and images can reach our surface mind that is so focussed on the external world. They will be shut away behind a hedge of thorns. The journey in search of the soul, back the way we have come, is difficult and even dangerous because it requires that we relinquish the certainty of what we think we know and what we have been taught to believe. It means surrendering the desire to be in control and opening ourselves to the journey. Many myths and fairy tales emphasise the need for surrender and trust in the strange non-rational guidance offered by animals or shamans on the quest. As the hero follows their guidance, so the hedge opens, the way unfolds. Following the guidance of the non-rational, intuitive wisdom of the instinct is the royal road into the realm of soul.
----- Following this intuitive, non-rational wisdom is also the theme of Greek mythology as well as fairy tales, if you remember the story of Theseus and Ariadne. Looking at this image (of Perseus, Andromeda and the dragon), I am reminded of a story told to me by a friend of mine.(3) If the soul had two suitors and one of them said to her: "You are of some interest to me as an object for clinical analysis. I want to see whether you exist and whether you conform to a theory I have about you. If you fit my theory, I might consider you as a suitable partner but I will set the terms of our contract." And the other said, "I have fallen passionately in love with you and want to know you better. I cannot conceive of life without you. Will you marry me?" Which of these suitors do you imagine she would choose? Supposing Perseus had approached Andromeda with the first offer. Might she not have chosen the dragon as a preferable fate? It is most unlikely that nature and our instinctual soul will yield their secrets to an analytical suitor; only to the one who loves them and wishes to discover what they want.
----- Now I would like to explore with you in more detail how I believe the separation between mind and soul may have come about. Reflecting on this image of the human brain, I see it as part of nature and as an organ that it has developed to further the evolution of consciousness; an organ which connects us to our immediate environment but which also connects us to a wider and deeper invisible field of consciousness - something like a still undiscovered field of incredibly fine energy which binds together many different levels and forms of life and functions at many different rates of vibration. The physical brain and all the interrelated systems that we call body and which form an organic whole have come into being over millions of years of the Earth's life. The brain (which cannot really be considered as separate from the rest of the body) has been the organ for a consciousness that has moved infinitely slowly from unconscious instinctual responses programmed through the life experience of countless species through millions, if not billions of years, to the time where one species out of many - our species - developed self-awareness and the ability to focus attention through reflective, analytic and directed thought.
----- This miraculous evolutionary process was focussed relatively recently through the reptilian and mammalian brain system and then, only very recently in relation to planetary evolution, through the neo-cortex or new mammalian brain. Infinitely slowly, as if in response to an innate directing impulse, the consciousness latent or present within nature and matter, as the form of an oak is present within an acorn, has slowly become conscious. We carry all this immense evolutionary experience - this memory bank - in the cells of our body. We carry both the older and the newer brain systems co-ordinating as a single entity. However, as the ability of our species to develop a sense of self, to inhibit instinctive reflexes and increasingly to be able to control the environment evolved, so we became cut off from the immense network of relationships in which we were once embedded - that we call nature, the planetary matrix out of which we have evolved. This was in no sense our fault. We have simply instinctively followed the gradient of our evolution and have not been able to understand until now what has happened and why it has happened.
-----This image of a winged and crowned mermaid, surrounded by symbols of the four elements, taken from an alchemical text, describes this evolutionary process rather well. (4). We can see how the older and newer systems of consciousness are brought together in the figure of the mermaid. Her tail could represent the older, instinctual stratum of consciousness; her body and head the more recently developed levels and her crowned head and wings a potential of consciousness that has not yet been realised by us as a species. The development of a sense of self, and the ability to focus and direct consciousness towards specific goals seems to have brought about a dissociation between the older and the newer aspects of our nature, between mind and soul, between rational intellect and the greater matrix of nature which functions instinctively. Nature has been emptied of numinosity and divinity as human consciousness gathered that divinity and numinosity to itself.        This inner dissociation in our own nature has been projected onto the belief that spirit and nature are something intrinsically different from each other. Spirituality has always been presented as a movement away from nature, upwards towards spirit. Only the Taoists among the religious systems of the last three thousand years seem to have understood that in order to discover the ground of our being within nature and within ourselves, we need to be connected to the instinct as something of great value. A part of consciousness that has been split off from its ground like a child from the mother, needs to rejoin that ground. We are part of what we observe around us because we have evolved from the same matrix or root as everything we observe. In moving to an exploration of our own consciousness as the key to understanding both ourselves and the universe, we are, I believe, moving towards an extraordinary revelation.
----- But the dissociation in our nature is becoming increasingly dangerous for ourselves and the planet because, although we believe that we are in control of our instincts, we are in fact controlled and directed by the older part of our nature in ways that we are simply not aware of. Although thinking seems to be so conscious, so rational, it is inseparably tied to feelings and instincts that come from the older levels of consciousness. Our belief systems, whether religious or scientific, as well as our ways of relating to each other as individuals and nations are profoundly rooted in unconscious instinctive responses which have their origins in earlier phases of our evolution. The unconscious responses of the reptilian/mammalian brain system are immensely conservative and immensely powerful. They fear change as an overwhelming threat. Once a belief system or a pattern of behaviour has been established over several thousand or even several hundred years, the instinctual response to any new idea is to attack it and to defend the old position with all the power that is available to it. Hence the ridicule and furious resistance provoked by ideas which run counter to the general belief system of the age. In defending an established belief system, we can behave with all the instinctive aggression of an animal defending its territory. (Analytical work also encounters the fear of losing the safety of what is familiar).
----- From another perspective mythology can also throw some light on how the dissociation between mind and soul came about and also on the evolution of consciousness. This is the earliest known image of the Great Mother, dating to about 22,000 BC. (5). The Great Mother or the Great Goddess stands for the maternal ground, the older layers of consciousness, the deeper reality we know so little about and the whole instinctual network of invisible relationships that we call nature. She also stands for the phase in our evolution when we lived in greater participatory union with the ground of life, contained, so to speak, in its womb. (Owen Barfield describes this earlier phase of our evolution as "Original Participation") (6). Duality in the sense of feeling ourselves to be separate from nature, had not yet come into being. For some fifteen thousand years and maybe far longer, the image of the Great Mother was the focus of human consciousness. One might call this phase of unknown length the phase of lunar consciousness. Throughout this time, life was experienced as an organic, living and sacred whole, and the Great Mother was the whole, the matrix of being, the womb or source of all life, both visible and invisible. The earth was peopled with unseen entities, a "thou" not an "it", as it is today. We can relate this phase to that phase in our own lives when we are contained in the maternal womb and closely associated with our mother during our early years. This sense of participatory consciousness lasts far into the Bronze Age and beyond - until about 2,000 BC.
----- But suddenly, around 2000 BC, we can see from the texts and mythic imagery of the time that there is a dramatic shift of focus from the feminine to the masculine principle, from goddess to god. This is reflected in a Babylonian myth which tells how the god Marduk murders the mother goddess Tiamat (who is portrayed as a dragon) and creates heaven and earth from the two halves of her dead body. This Assyrian relief of 1000 years later describes the earlier Babylonian myth. (7). Here is the earliest image of a god separate from creation who brings it into being not as a natural, organic process but by a conscious act of will. Here is an image of duality, an image which suggests the separation of consciousness from the maternal ground of instinct, the beginning of the differentiation of mind from soul, and the emergence of a conscious ego which sees itself as the creator of the world. Marduk exults in his power to destroy the mother goddess and to create the universe, setting the stars in their courses. This late Bronze Age myth had an immense influence on later cultures and is the prototype of Greek myths describing a hero's struggle with the dragon. It establishes the paradigm of the fundamental split between spirit and nature that was to lead, via Hebrew and Christian culture, to the belief (first expressed in theology and then, much later, in science) that nature and matter are something separate from and inferior to spirit, fundamentally different from spirit, something passive and inert, without consciousness, something that can be controlled and dominated by the human mind and made subject to the human will. Inheriting these concepts by a quite fascinating transmission of mythology from culture to culture, it seems as if the human mind today has modelled itself on Marduk, believing with all the hubris of an ego cut off from its roots, that it can manipulate nature and matter as it chooses. The end-result of this transmission of ideas has led ultimately to the creation of the atom bomb, splitting and using the elements of nature to destroy life in the same way that Marduk used the elements of nature to destroy Tiamat. (Marduk used the wind to blow her up). Nothing illustrates the dissociation between mind and soul better than this recent event. Five thousand years after Marduk, the ethos of Western culture is still one of conquest, whether the conquest of enemies or the conquest of nature or space and I believe it originates with this powerful Babylonian myth.
----- We are only just becoming aware of unconscious mythological programming which has profoundly influenced and directed our religious beliefs and our scientific research. In Western civilisation, God has been presented or imagined in the masculine mode for nearly three thousand years and the feminine dimension of the divine has been deleted from our definition of spirit. God has been conceived as an intelligence or being beyond creation rather than as the life of creation and the hidden intelligence within it. 4000 years ago, with the myth of Marduk, divinity began to be identified with the heavens, with the sky, with spirit, and then with creative mind, ultimately with our mind - all imagined in the masculine gender. The Great Mother and the goddess, who once stood for the ground of being and for the whole Kosmos prior to the separation of heaven and earth, gradually became identified with the earth alone, then with nature and matter and eventually (with the myth of the Fall), with sin and sexuality. Nature was reduced to the role of servant supplying humanity with the material for a better life. I hope I have managed to convey to you how we may have accepted things without sufficiently exploring the root of how ideas and beliefs have come into being.
----- If we go back to the older paradigm, inherited from the earlier goddess tradition, we see that it survived wherever the worship of the goddess survived. Through the focus of this image, life was still experienced (albeit for the most part unconsciously) as an organic, living and sacred whole. This different understanding or perception of reality mediated through the soul, through instinct and feeling, was enshrined in the image of the sacred marriage - the principal religious ceremony of the Bronze Age - which celebrated the union of heaven and earth, goddess and god and also, as we can understand now, the union of the two aspects of our consciousness. For the goddess symbolised the older matrix of the instinctual soul and the god became the focus for the developing power of the ego, the emergence of the individual from the collectivity of the tribe and the faculty of conceptual, abstract thought, or what today we call rational mind. The image of the sacred marriage, essential for keeping alive the bond between the two aspects of consciousness, between goddess and god, was transmitted to alchemy and to all those myths and fairy tales which end in a marriage. And so we return to the Sleeping Beauty as one of the most famous of these.
----- Now I would like to look at another crucially important myth - the Hebrew myth of the Fall - because it also describes the separation of consciousness from its instinctual ground. This myth seems to elaborate feelings which accompanied the experience of no longer being contained in the womb of nature. With the development of the conscious ego and of analytical, reflective thinking came an awareness of suffering and of profound guilt, responsibility and choice. The incredible fear of no longer feeling contained in the womb of nature, of feeling expelled from the Garden, and the belief that humanity was responsible for incurring this catastrophe through some primordial sin pervade the pages of the Old Testament. (Anyone who has worked with patients knows how deeply this feeling of guilt and sin is imprinted on the Christian psyche, particularly the psyche of woman). The need for control and power that is so much a feature of Iron Age culture and, indeed, of our own, may be understood as a compensation to the feeling of vulnerability in an alien world.
----- This myth, like the earlier one of Marduk, tells the story of how consciousness became divided into two parts - the one associated with the god and with spirit, reason, mind and the masculine principle; the other with the goddess and with soul, nature, feeling, instinct and the body as the feminine principle. Adam and Eve stand for these two aspects of our own nature. The division of a unified cosmos into the two parts of heaven and earth, mind and body, spirit and nature is an image of human consciousness entering a dualistic phase of its evolution. The duality we have projected onto life is not intrinsically real although, understandably, we have constructed our lives on the premiss that it is real. It is a provisional interpretation of an overwhelmingly difficult evolutionary experience. The image of a god transcendent to creation was perhaps necessary for our evolutionary growth and for the development of a strong sense of self and the development of individuality. But it has had tragic effects on humanity. Only as a therapist have I gained insight into the terror that the experience of separation and loss evokes and into the corrosive guilt that men and women who have experienced these carry in their soul.
----- The Expulsion from the Garden is a myth that marks the birth of modern consciousness, and the winning of some small measure of freedom from the overwhelming power of instinct and the dawning awareness of choice and responsibility. But it also marks the beginning of fear of the instincts and feelings, their repression and a loss of relationship with the soul. All this is told in the drama of Adam, Eve and the serpent. The serpent, symbol of the older instinctual consciousness, was blamed for tempting Eve. Eve was blamed for bringing death and suffering into the world. Woman through Eve was blamed for being the lure that led men into sexual relationships. Woman's sexuality in particular was associated with the primal sin which brought about the Fall. I think you can see what a disastrous and quite unnecessary amount of human suffering has come from this myth - all due to belief, fear and repression. The separation from nature and the emergence of the ego is the beginning of conflict within our own nature. This conflict, projected onto myriad situations in the world over thousands of years is the root of enmity between individuals and tribes that has led to the terrible carnage of this century. So, in a sense, the hedge of thorns is within us. The greatest problem in the world today, as Jung said, is how to heal the dissociation in our consciousness by bringing the masculine and feminine aspects of our nature together.
----- It looks to me as if the instinctive soul needs to be put into intensive care. It needs our attention. It has suffered terribly during the last 3000 years, first from repression and persecution by religion, lately from repression by the scientific attitude which insists that the non-rational, the unprovable, must be excluded from our view of reality. The rigorous repression of anything outside orthodoxy in religion and the exclusion of the non-rational from science amounts to the same thing - the strangulation or suffocation of the soul. In modern dreams the soul appears as a wounded animal, an emaciated or starving woman, a weeping or anorexic child. In a thousand ways, some acceptable to us, others unacceptable, it tries to get through to us, it tries to tell us its story, make us aware of its need for relationship with us. It tries to tell us that something is gravely amiss, out of balance. But it can't get through to the rational mind. This is why Jung in the last year of his life (1960) wrote these words: "I have failed in my foremost task: to open people's eyes to the fact that man has a soul, and that there is a buried treasure in the field and that our philosophy and religion are in a lamentable state…" (8)
----- Now I want to turn to Alchemy and to how this situation might be changed. This sixteenth century painting shows an alchemist holding in his hand an alchemical flask and standing barefoot in a landscape surrounded by a border of exquisite flowers and birds. He is wearing the royal purple robe which reflects an awakened consciousness and the integration of mind with soul. (9) The alchemists called themselves the Sons of Wisdom because wisdom was the philosopher's stone, wisdom was the end-result of a long process of transformation. I believe that certain alchemists discovered that the dissociation between mind and soul could be healed and that through that healing, consciousness could evolve further, eventually reaching that state described by the great mystics of all cultures - the experience of the reunion of our nature with the ground of being. They knew, long before us, that matter was energy or spirit. They discovered that there was a hidden spirit, a hidden consciousness that was active within nature and human nature and that it was possible to work with that spirit, so bringing about an astonishing transformation. They called this spirit Mercurius. It was androgynous. They observed matter in their alchemical vessel; it came alive before their eyes. They saw it undergo a transformation and they began to speak to it through their imagination. Their understanding was transformed by that dialogue. The mystery drew them into the midst of itself, step by step. They became vehicles for the further evolution of consciousness. What we are discovering now - what the scientists present at this conference are discovering - rests on foundations they laid centuries ago. But the greatest alchemists regarded themselves as the servants, not the masters of life. They set their work in the context of a quest for a priceless treasure. "Our gold is not the common gold." They gave this treasure names like the wondrous stone, the philosophers' gold, the elixir of life. They discovered that the essential preparation for the experience of the treasure was a marriage between the solar and lunar, masculine and feminine aspects of our nature. They called these the king and the queen.
----- Water and the sea have always been a symbol of the soul - remember that image of the mermaid - so in this alchemical image (10) we see the king and queen immersed in the water of the soul, united in sexual union. The king enters the alchemical waters of the matrix of consciousness. There, he encounters a different kind of consciousness symbolised by the queen. This union of which the alchemists recorded many phases symbolised the process of psychic transformation whereby king and queen come to know each other intimately, entering into a dialogue with each other. The king becomes aware of his feelings, his instincts, not as something inferior to himself, something he has to dominate and subject to his will, but as something like his own mother, something that he has been born out of, that he has separated from and that he now needs to relate to and reunite with as his bride. The queen responds and changes as the king learns how to value and relate to this feminine and royal counterpart of himself. Translated into our modern understanding, the union would mean that our logical, analytical masculine mind begins to develop a different way of perceiving reality, a different, more feminine, participatory and empathic way of relating to life. Bathing in the maternal waters restores a sense of trust in life, taking away that fear that has so long dominated us. It leads to trust in the support and guidance of instinct, for instinct also undergoes transformation. As the king learns how to relate to the queen, he develops insight and follows a different, intuitive logic. As he differentiates himself from the archaic and unconscious power drive of his instinctual nature derived from the genetic programming of the older brain system, so that power becomes available to him to be used not against life but on behalf of life, on behalf of nature, on behalf of something that he begins to realise with amazement, is of the same essence as himself. He grows in moral stature through insight. In this one image there may be concentrated a lifetime of alchemical work.
----- This is how the alchemists pictured the ancient reflexes of the dragon which still have us in their grip. (11) The dragon is the primordial life instinct in its unconscious state: the will to survive, the instinct to procreate, the territorial and tribal instinct, the fight/flight response, the maternal instinct to protect the young, the instinct for predator to attack and kill its prey. The dragon in mythology has long been a symbol of the immense power of instinct, power so great that our still immature conscious ego is like an ant compared to a dinosaur. The power of the dragon today is reflected in our terrible weapons of destruction, our drive for power and control and the horrifying pattern of predator attacking and destroying its prey as in the ethnic cleansing taking place in Bosnia and Rwanda. But the dragon is also the power to heal, to create, to transform; it is the colossal energy that impels our lives, the courage of human endeavour, the source of our extraordinary technical skills, our passionate longing to alleviate human suffering. The dragon is the root of our imagination, the energy that empowers it which has flowered in so many marvellous creations of the human soul. But an unconscious dragon acts blindly, following the pathways that are familiar to it through millions of years. Its energy and creativity can be harnessed to goals that injure and destroy life. An alliance between our technological skills and the power drive of the dragon can be very dangerous if there is no awareness of what is directing us.
----- The alchemists gave supreme importance to the transformation of these archaic instinctual drives. They gave us a picture of this heroic achievement in this image of a dark man emerging from the muddy waters, being welcomed by an angel holding the red robe which symbolises a new, regenerated consciousness. (12) The alchemists called this dark figure the Mighty Ethiopian - a term which originates in Egypt with the god Osiris and the mythology of death and regeneration. So, applying this to ourselves, we ourselves would have to die to our old way of living in order to be born into a new understanding of life.
----- Here, in this image of integration king, queen and dragon are now related to each other. The three aspects of our nature are able to function in unity rather than in conflict with each other. The dragon wears a crown signifying that it too has become conscious, awake, and can no longer act blindly. It is an image of a unified soul, where all parts are related to each other and in harmony.
----- And here is an image of what we have to go through in order to effect this transformation. It is an image (of a man holding a severed head and standing in front of a dismembered body) that takes us back to the Dionysian mysteries of death, dismemberment and regeneration which is one of the most powerful themes of alchemy. (13). The solar consciousness by which we live, focussed only on the external world, is dismembered, dissolved, in order that a deeper understanding may come into being through reconnection with our lunar consciousness. The alchemists said that their art was not a method of metallic transmutation, so much as a true and solid science which teaches us how to know the centre of all things, which is called the spirit of life - the consciousness which permeates all forms of life. We cannot know this spirit with the limited, intellectual knowledge of the head. We need to know it with the heart, as an experience, and this is the beginning of wisdom. So dismemberment is an image of letting go of old beliefs and changing the patterns of behaviour in which the life spirit has become imprisoned or buried. Psychic growth is a very painful process and this image of dismemberment reflects it. But again you see the beautiful border round the edge which symbolises bringing oneself into relationship with nature and the flowering of nature within us.
----- Other images of transformation are focussed on water and fire as agents of transmuting the lead that we are into the gold of the final treasure. Water washes, cleanses, renews, gives life. Fire burns, purifies, transmutes. By these processes the matter of our psychic life is refined, cleansed, rendered more subtle and translucent to the divine ground. By these methods the quintessential gold of the life spirit is separated out from the rust or verdigris that has accrued to it over the millennia of human evolution. The alchemists called themselves washerwomen and cooks. Reaching ever deeper into the heart of their psychic life, they perceived the unity of everything; they saw that matter was not dead, inert. They felt the aliveness of matter, worked with the spirit hidden in matter, entered into a dialogue with it and were struck with wonder and amazement at what they discovered. Their growing insight worked a profound transformation of their consciousness, their understanding. They hid their discoveries in obscure symbols for fear of persecution. Fortunately for us, a few of their books with their amazing illustrations have survived.
----- The peacock with its many-eyed tail is, in alchemy, an image of the flowering of the new kind of consciousness, the hundred eyes that we begin to see with once we move into a deeper relationship with life. (14) It reflects the flowering of the imagination and the capacity to feel related to the whole of creation.
----- Being a therapist has taught me something that I didn't know before and that I could have learned in no other way. It has taught me how infinitely vulnerable we are, how infinitely sensitive, how courageous, how noble, how tragic our lives are when in the grip of a complex that can create a negative fate, a fate we cannot comprehend, and how deeply intelligent we are once we have begun to understand what our symptoms are trying to convey to us about the suffering of our soul. There is no doubt that the chief longing of human consciousness is to know itself, to understand itself, to discover its purpose on this planet. I don't think suffering by itself teaches us anything at all. If it did, we would have come to our senses centuries ago. It is only through insight into our behaviour that we can radically alter our fate, change our behaviour. The excitement and wonder that comes with the realisation that we can transform our psychic life, that we can change our fate by changing our consciousness is deeply moving. The joy and energy released is phenomenal. Instead of living from the mind, from surface of our being or from the collective beliefs and values of the culture, we begin to live from a deeper level. And this is where synchronicity comes in: as if responding to our effort to live differently, life indicates its awareness of this shift of consciousness by helping us in some tangible way. It's as if it's saying: "Yes, you're on the right track. Trust that intuition. Follow that path." Books fall out of shelves. Unexpected meetings take place. This in turn encourages trust and further effort to let go of an obsolete pattern of living. We begin to perceive how intimately linked our lives are with the lives of others, how we are all one essential life at the root. This is intensely moving - at times a revelation. As we move closer to the heart of our own being, so we are attracted to others who are on the same path as ourselves, experiencing this process of awakening, and we can share with them the discoveries and experiences which have enriched our lives.
----- So here, to end, is an image of the alchemical wedding (15), the final stage of the alchemical work, which actually takes place in all the phases of this process of awakening but here is shown as an image of completion. King and queen, the solar and lunar aspects of consciousness are united, in relationship with each other; neither one repressing, threatening or in conflict with the other. There is balance, integration and creative expansion in the service of life. There is no need for forced sacrifice as in many religious traditions, no need for the punishing ritual of ascetic self-denial. I feel very strongly about this because the body has suffered terribly through these practices and still carries the memory of that suffering. The alchemists were careful to say that their union included body, soul and spirit. They also said that this union could only be brought about gradually and gently and that, although their work was apparently "against" nature, against continuing in bondage to unconscious instinctive patterns, the awakening of instinct could only be accomplished with the assistance of nature. The way to its consummation would be revealed step by step. It could not be hurried or forced.
----- Alchemy is a psychic experience that is impossible to describe or teach. The symbols yield their secret to those who contemplate them. The process of transformation is unique for each one of us yet intrinsically the same for all. This is the slow creation of the wondrous stone, the vision of the Holy Grail, the tasting of the elixir of life, the healing with the alchemical gold. It is the blazing revelation of the divinity of life in the reunion of body, soul and spirit and the service of that life with whatever creative gifts it has bestowed on us. The gradual creation of the treasure is an experience of great suffering and sacrifice on the one hand and illumination, wonder and inexpressible joy on the other as the light of the unified consciousness dawns.
----- No-one, the alchemists said, may accomplish this work except through affection, humility and love for it is the gift of God to his humble servants. To return to the ground from which we have come, so completing our evolutionary journey on this planet and bringing the consciousness of the planet with us, is one of the most exciting quests that I can imagine. To discover that spirit, so long projected onto a God remote from ourselves and creation, is the quintessential consciousness which is awaiting discovery both in nature and ourselves is one of the greatest revelations that it is possible for the human spirit to experience. The other revelation, no less overwhelming, is that we have the extraordinary privilege of helping this divine consciousness to achieve its evolutionary goal. In awakening to our soul, in discovering how to relate to it, transform it, to heal its wounds and listen to its guidance, to receive its dreams and acknowledge its visions, we help to bring about the marriage between the Sleeping Beauty and the Prince and eventually also, that sacred marriage with the ground of being which is the tremendous destiny of the human race.

-----1. Bede Griffiths, Return to the Centre, HarperCollins, London 1976 p.31,32.
-----2. Pitirim Sorokin, The Crisis of Our Age, Oneworld Publications Ltd., Oxford, 1941 &1992
-----3. Richard Tarnas, author of The Passion of the Western Mind.
-----4. reproduced in Alchemy, the Secret Art, by Stanislas Kossowski de Rola Thames & Hudson Ltd.,
----- - London 1973.
-----5. Found in a rock shelter at Laussel, in the Dordogne. Now in the museum of Aquitaine in Bordeaux.
-----6. Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut 1988. Originally published by Faber and Faber, London, 1957.
-----7. Assyrian relief in the British Museum.
-----8. From an unpublished letter written by Jung in 1960 and quoted by Dr. Gerhard Adler in Dynamics of the Self, Coventure, London 1979, p. 92
---- ------9. From the manuscript Splendor Solis by Salomon Trismosin in the British Library.
-----10. From Rosarium philosophorum, Stadtbibliothek Vadiana, St. Gallen, Ms. 394a, f.34,64. Reproduced in Alchemy, The Secret Art, Stanislas Klossowski de Rola, Thames and Hudson Ltd. London 1973.
-----11. Reproduced in Alchemy, The Secret Art, Stanislas Klossowski de Rola, Thames and Hudson Ltd. London 1973.
-----12. From Splendor Solis
----- -----13.
----- -----14.
----- -----15.

This lecture has been published in Thinking Beyond the Brain: A Wider Science of Consciousness,
edited by David Lorimer, Floris Books, 2001

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