The Great Work:Healing the Wasteland


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I have included some of my lectures in this section:
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Lecture 19
The Dream of the Cosmos
The Lunar and Solar Hero
Lecture 17
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The Great Work: Healing the Wasteland
The Myth of the Solar Hero
Voices of the Ancestors
A Unified Vision of Reality
A Metaphysical Revolution? Reflections on the Idea of the Primacy of Consciousness
Lecture 12
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Rebalancing the Psyche: Integrating the Feminine Principle Body, Soul and Spirit
Lecture 11
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Love as the Pulse of the Cosmos: Reconnecting With the Divine Ground
Lecture 10
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Seeing through the Veil: Reuniting Three Dimensions of Reality
Lecture 9
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Unexplored Dimensions of Consciousness
and The Visionary Experience
Lecture 8
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An Alchemical Quest
Lecture 7
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Healing the Heart: An Alchemy of Consciousness
Lecture 6
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The Sleeping Beauty - The Awakening of Instinct into Consciousness
Lecture 5
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Rebalancing the Masculine and Feminine
Lecture 4
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The Dream of the Water: A Quest for the Numinous
Lecture 3
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The Evolution of Consciousness
Lecture 2
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Jung's Septem Sermones ad Mortuos 
Lecture 1
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The Relevance of the Visionary Experience to Culture  



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Lecture 17

April 2nd, 2005 Mystics and Scientists Winchester
copyright ©Anne Baring

The Young King (Trismosin - Splendor Solis)
The Great Work is a phrase that comes down to us from Egypt, from the ancient tradition of alchemy, a tradition which connects us to the secret and sacred life of the soul - the lost life of the imagination. Alchemy is the science which transmutes base metal into gold. What is this base metal? Certain alchemists thought that it symbolises our present level of consciousness, which, transfixed in ignorance, continually brings into being suffering and evil. And what is the gold the alchemists speak of? It is the revelation of the radiant light of the divine ground, the light that shines in all and through all, yet is tragically invisible to us. Alchemy defines three stages in the Great Work:

1. The first stage is to recognise the existence of an invisible dimension of reality that interpenetrates and embraces this visible one.
2. The second is to create a relationship with it and receive help, guidance and illumination from it.
3. The third is to attune our being ever more finely to that divine ground.

The Great Work gradually brings into being a new kind of consciousness that the alchemists call the Young King. The numinous words that accompany this image are these: "The king's son lies in the depths of the sea yet lives and calls from the Deep: Whosoever will rescue me and bring me to dry land, him will I reward with everlasting riches." The old unregenerate consciousness was symbolised by an ageing King who has to surrender his power, to die, so that new values might come into being, values which would replace the deficient values which have governed society for millennia. We are participating in the Great Work today as we struggle to recover our connection to soul and bring forth from its depths the new values which represent the Young King.

Knight and Image of the Quest (Le Livre du Coeur d'Amour Épris)
The twelfth century legends of the Holy Grail tell the story of an identical quest for the experience of connection with that other dimension of reality - the dimension that the great Islamic scholar Henri Corbin named the Mundus Imaginalis - the Imaginal World. I would like to tell you the story of one particular legend. It is the story of Parsifal and his journey through the Wasteland - a land devastated by war and greed, where crops withered, animals sickened and died and the waters of life no longer flowed. As a young man, Parsifal was guided to the Castle of the Grail and taken into the presence of the old Grail King, who lay between life and death, bleeding from a wound in the groin that could not be healed. Parsifal's conventional training as a knight forbade him to ask the question that arose in his heart, 'What ails thee, Lord?' But he was invited to sit at the table of the knights and to witness the procession of maidens bearing the emblems or the Grail into the hall. The next morning, sensing that he was in disgrace, yet not knowing what he had failed to do and finding no-one to tell him, Parsifal left the deserted Castle. Immediately it vanished from his sight and he embarked on many years of quest, seeking to find again the place that meant more to him than anything else, even his beloved wife.

After years of wandering he was again guided to the Grail Castle. But before this happened, he had a fight to the death with a knight whom he believed was his mortal enemy but who, at the last minute, took off his helmet and revealed himself to be his half-brother, Feirefiz. Each knight discovered that he was the son of the same father but a different mother; one white and one black; one from Europe, the other from North Africa; one Christian, the other Muslim. Reconciled to each other, they entered the Grail Castle and Parsifal, deeply moved once again by the sight of the king's suffering, asked the question, "What ails thee, Lord?' And with these heart-felt words, the old man's agonising wound was healed, the Wasteland was regenerated and Parsifal was astonished to see his wife leading the procession of women who bore the emblems of the Grail into the great hall of the castle.

Each of us has been drawn to this conference to reflect on the question 'What ails us?' How might we heal the split between inner and outer, subject and object, science and spirituality, the masculine and feminine, self and other, humanity and the earth?

For me, all these splits and divisions are the result of a catastrophic loss of soul, a loss of the ancient instinctive awareness of the sacred interweaving of all aspects of life, a loss of the sense of connection with an invisible dimension of reality, a loss of instinct and imagination. For centuries, we have been influenced by a sterile philosophy which insists that we live in a mechanistic, lifeless universe where stars are seen as objects instead of divine beings, where angels, stones and trees no longer speak to us and we do not stand in awe before the great mysteries that surround us. Our arrogant and dissociated rational mind now stands like a tyrant over and against nature, over and against the earth. This leaves the human heart lonely and afraid and the neglected territory of the soul a barren wasteland. How did this situation come into being?

The Moon
Three Phases of Consciousness diagram:
Phase 1: Lunar
- Participation in an ensouled cosmos.
The moon has been the great teacher of humanity, the inspiration of the greatest myths and stories to emerge from the human soul. The observation of the moon gave us cyclical time, astronomy, mathematics, belief in the immortality of the soul. For thousands of generations people watched the moon appear as a crescent, wax to fullness, then wane and disappear into darkness and re-appear after a three days' absence. This long observation of the moon gave us an age-old and instinctive sense of connection with the life of the cosmos, and with the life of the earth and its cyclical process of death and regeneration. The return of the crescent moon after the three days of darkness gave us trust in the survival of the soul and the regeneration of life after apparent death. Most importantly, lunar mythology held both light and dark in relation to each other because the totality of the moon's cycle contained both light and darkness, therefore symbolically embracing both life and death. In lunar mythology, death is not final and terrifying but a rite of passage between the manifest and hidden dimensions of life.

Landscape of the Soul - Indian and Taoist painting
Lunar mythology is the foundation of the ancient Bronze Age civilizations of Egypt, India and China. Under its influence, people felt that spirit was imminent in this world. They felt that they participated in a great cosmic mystery and that everything was sacred because everything emerged from that invisible dimension and was contained within it, as within a Great Mother. All forms of life were connected to each other and connected to the life of the cosmos. The key image of lunar mythology is relationship. While we have gained a great deal of knowledge, we have all but lost that ancient sense of connection and relationship.

Hero and Dragon
Phase 2. Separation - Myth of the Fall - Expulsion from the Garden

Where do the words "Those who are not with us are against us" originate? They originate in solar mythology. We first hear of it around 2500 BC in Sumerian and Babylonian texts which show that it is beginning (in the Middle East) to replace or displace the older lunar mythology. We first hear of it in the Sumerian story of Gilgamesh and the Babylonian Myth of Creation which tell of a mighty battle between a hero and a great dragon or monster. In the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, he and his friend Enkidu set out to kill a monster called Humbaba who guards the forest of Lebanon on behalf of the gods. In spite of dreams warning them not to proceed, in spite of their own doubts, they press on as heroes always do. They kill Humbaba and incur the wrath of Shamash, the sun god. Shortly afterwards Enkidu falls ill and dies and Gilgamesh, inconsolable, sets out on a quest for the herb of immortality. This is the earliest story of the quest.

The most important feature of solar mythology is that it divides life into two halves: spirit and nature, light and dark, good and evil. It strives to reach the light and splits off the darkness. Its key image is transcendence and conquest rather than connection and relationship. It perceives darkness as inimical to the light, the enemy of the light. It projects evil onto a cosmic entity (Satan or the Devil) imagined as the enemy of God. Solar mythology tells of a cosmic battle between light and darkness, good and evil, and of many battles between a hero and a great serpent, monster or dragon. This myth entered into the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and is deeply embedded in the modern psyche wherever these religions predominate. It comes up to meet us today in the world of international politics where, once again, we succumb to its archetypal spell.

However, with the psychological insight gained over the last hundred years, I think we can now understand that this solar mythology is telling us the story of the emergence of our human consciousness from the matrix of nature and that the metaphor of the hero's struggle with a dragon can be read as a description of our struggle to differentiate ourselves from nature and from instinct, our struggle to become conscious, to gain self-awareness and the capacity to reflect on our actions. It is this story that is told in the myth of the Fall or our expulsion from the Garden of Eden. But solar mythology by its very imagery, polarises conscious mind and instinctive soul, the masculine and feminine aspects of our being. It encourages the conscious (rational) mind to try to control everything it surveys, the very matrix from which it has emerged. It polarises life and death, good and evil, mind and body in our consciousness and, without our being aware of it, turns nature and instinct into something that is dangerous and threatening, an enemy.

This solar mythology has had a huge influence on the way we think and on our behaviour towards each other. The desire to conquer and dominate, to root out evil in others, to try to succeed or to be victorious at all costs comes straight from this mythology. So do all the conquering heroes who have been admired throughout history (Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon). So do the belief systems, whether religious or secular, which offer salvation for one part of humanity and split off and demonise those who do not share a particular belief or ideology (Communism and Fascism). Christianity and Islam fell under the spell of this mythology and are not yet free of it. Women have fallen under the spell of it in their effort to succeed in a world created and controlled by man. Solar mythology permeates every aspect of our culture and, because its emphasis is on reaching a goal at all costs, it is destroying our relationships with each other.

Icon of St George and the Dragon
The myth of the solar hero tells the story of our Promethean struggle to master the forces of nature, to face great dangers in order to achieve incredible goals. (astronauts and Ellen MacArthur). In solar mythology the male hero faces and overcomes his deepest fears but at the same time he stands over and against nature, attempting to conquer, dominate and control it. We can recognise the influence of solar mythology today in the omnipotent attitude of science and technology, in our myth of progress, in the weapons of mass-destruction which we believe will give us power over our enemies (sacrificing them in order to ensure our survival), and in the omnipotent stance of political leaders who wish to control the world. Solar mythology ultimately becomes focussed on the supremacy of male power. There is always another dragon to fight, another enemy to overcome. In solar mythology there can only be victory, never defeat. George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden and Tony Blair are modern solar heroes who exhibit the symptoms of mythic inflation - that is - of an unconscious identification with the solar myth, projecting darkness and evil onto an enemy.

Ucello painting of dragon with woman and hero on horse
This painting shows two different ways of approaching the dragon. The hero on the horse is bearing down on it with his lance, piercing its eye. The woman is connected to the dragon by a lead and is perhaps an image of the insight we can use to relate to the dragon in a different way, no longer killing and injuring it but bringing it into consciousness. The insight we have now developed into our psyche can help us to understand that the root cause of all the splits in our thinking is the original split that has developed between the conscious, rational mind - the hero - and the deep instinctive matrix of our soul that is symbolised by the dragon. It is this instinctive matrix of our soul which connects us to nature, to the life systems of the planet and, ultimately, to the deep ground of life. Our conscious mind has no relationship with this matrix of instinct, no understanding of how this unconscious and dissociated aspect of ourselves can control and overpower the so-called rational mind, nor of how our culture might be transformed by creating a relationship with it. And so, in ignorance of this split within our psyche, projecting what is unconscious in ourselves into the arena of the world, we continue to bring evil into being, continue to re-enact the habits of behaviour which create the Wasteland.

Polarisation of Opposites Diagram
Solar mythology has brought into being the polarisation between the feminine and masculine aspects of our life experience which has developed over the last 4500 years and has profoundly affected our thinking. So I would like to take a little time to look at these two columns. Note the soul is the unifying principle relating these to each other.

Feminine       =       SOUL        =      Masculine
Moon                                                 Sun
Unconscious                                       Conscious
Nature (Goddess)                                Spirit (God)
Earth                                                  Heaven
Darkness                                            Light
Evil                                                    Good
Chaos                                                Order
Death                                                 Life
Woman                                              Man
Left hand                                           Right hand
Body/Matter                                       Mind/Spirit (in individual)
Imagination                                        Reason
Feeling/Instinct                                   Thinking
Non-Rational                                      Rational
Spirituality                                          Science
Observed                                           Observer
Alternative medicine                           Orthodox medicine

If we are to heal the Wasteland, we need to bring these two aspects of life into relationship within ourselves, so they are no longer in conflict with each other. We need to heal the deep wound in our psyche. We would then no longer unconsciously project our inner split, our inner conflict into the world. The split may be compared to a computer virus that has affected all our our institutions, beliefs and ways of interacting with each other and the world. It is very difficult to become aware of how deeply we have been affected by it and how it 'programmes' the way we think.

Hedge of Thorns and Prince
Our rational mind - the Prince - is a tremendous and essential evolutionary attainment but it is also a hedge of thorns barring our way. In the effort to win autonomy from the matrix of nature - an effort which needs to be acknowledged as the great achievement of the male psyche - we made the mistake of turning against nature, against the body and all things believed to be feminine and inferior. The end result is what we have today - matter and nature emptied of spirit, the body sacrificed in war to our dreams of conquest, the soul reduced to mind (Francis Crick). The Prince on his own cannot accomplish the Great Work. He needs reconnection with instinctive soul, with the ground from which he has emerged. The fairy tale says that when the right moment has arrived, the hedge of thorns turns to roses and the Prince can find his way to the Princess.

Sleeping Beauty:
Phase 3 - Reconnection - re-ensouling our psyche and the world
Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has sold 35 million copies. Why? Is it hunger for what has been lost, a hunger on the part of the feminine (the soul) to be raised to parity with the masculine (union of Jesus and Mary Magdalene), a hunger for reconnection and relationship? A rehabilitation of our vilified sexuality? Is it a hunger for a different understanding of life than that offered by either religion or science? Because I keep in touch with the scientific discoveries reported through the Scientific and Medical Network, I know that amazing things are happening now and happening fast. Certain physicists are rediscovering the idea - once known to the great teachers of Egypt, India and China but long forgotten - that the universe is conscious and that our consciousness - our whole being - body, soul and spirit - exists within that greater being. The discovery that we participate in a cosmic internet of living systems, a vast and marvellous Web of Life is beginning to shatter the belief that this material reality is all there is, the belief that we exist on a tiny planet in a lifeless universe and that there is no life beyond death. It is shattering Richard Dawkins' belief that our sole reason for living is to propagate our DNA - an idea that, I was horrified to hear, he was imparting to children. It is beginning to shatter the idea that spirit is something transcendent and separate from ourselves. It is creating a bridge between those polarised aspects of life.

The New Age movement of the last fifty years has recovered for us many shamanic methods of connection. It has recovered ancient texts from India, China and Egypt that are restoring older ways of knowing. Above all, it has made us aware that we lost something of vital importance that is deeply meaningful to us. Included in these ways of connection are ancient methods of healing such as acupuncture and ayurvedic medicine, the use of plants and herbs, and divinatory ways of diagnosing illness and interacting with the imaginal world - the invisible dimension of the cosmos. The emerging world view - carried by a few hundred thousand people - is beginning to re-ensoul the world, is beginning to reconnect us with the life of the planet and with the great cosmic web of life.

The recent tsunami released a tidal wave of compassion, reaching out to the afflicted from people all over the world. It showed what a power we carry to change things when our heart is engaged. Because, at the deepest level, we are all connected to each other, when thousands of us begin to transcend the old dualistic way of thinking and acting, millions are affected. The more conscious and connected we become, the more help and inspiration can flow to us from the soul of the cosmos.

The Sacred Marriage of Sol and Luna (Trismosin) and The Coronation of the Virgin
Alchemy is the science of bringing the two great feminine and masculine principles and mythological traditions into relationship - into a state of marriage. There is a beautiful Hasidic saying from the Jewish mystical tradition: "When the moon shines as brightly as the sun, the messiah will come." (Baal Shem Tov)The moon is an age-old image of the feminine principle, as the sun is of the masculine one. So when these two shine as brightly as each other, when each is fully honoured in human consciousness, when solar mythology is softened and tempered by lunar mythology, the Messiah will come - not as an individual but as the raising of the consciousness of the whole of humanity. When this happens the Wasteland will be healed.

Dark Man emerging from the Mud (Trismosin, Splendor Solis)
Here we see a man emerging from the mud, and being greeted by the figure of an angel with a star on her head. We can recognise in her Divine Wisdom, She who presides over the Great Work of alchemy. Around the border of the picture are all the images of nature, plants and flowers, birds, monkeys and stags. As, through the use of their imagination, the alchemists watched the matter of their psychic life transform in the mirror of the alchemical retort, they experienced the immense mystery of what they were witnessing, expressing it in images such as this one. They realised that they were assisting spirit in its evolutionary effort of bringing itself to consciousness on this planet over aeons of earth time, leading its creation back to the source. They discovered through a gradual process of illumination, the fact that one divine spirit was at work in all forms of life and in human consciousness as well. They sought to rescue this hidden spirit from its buried state within matter and themselves. In accomplishing this double act of redemption, they became the sons and daughters of Divine Wisdom, inheritors of the true philosophical gold. And they called themselves the ministers, not the masters of the stone, their lives illumined and guided by the divine Intelligence eternally pouring forth the waters of life. The

Buddha seated on the coils of a great serpent with 7 hoods (National Museum, Bangkok)
This is an image on an enlightened man who is totally at one with instinct. It is an image of the completion of the Great Work in the eastern tradition. Nothing is excluded, nothing rejected. I return to this image whenever I feel out of touch with my instinct and it restores my sense of balance, reconnecting me with the depths of myself.

Completion of the Great Work (Johann Daniel Mylius, Opus medico-chymicum 1618)
Here is an alchemical and kabbalistic (many alchemists were kabbalists and vice versa) image of the completion of the Great Work. Here is shown the balance and relationship between spirit and nature, between the masculine and the feminine, between mind and soul. The process of alchemy draws us beyond current definitions of masculine and feminine to relationship with the divine ground. This universal yet immanent Holy Spirit is the flow of blood in our veins, the flux and flow of our thoughts and emotions, the powerful compulsion of our instincts and the miracle of our integrated bodily processes. It is the invisible matrix of relationships in which our lives, our very being, are embedded.

Mercurius (as image of spirit in the sea of the soul)
Many years ago, way back in 1943, my mother received channelled messages that said that she and her companions must find "The Dream of the Water". We hadn't the slightest idea what this meant. Could water dream and if so what was the dream? At that time, we knew nothing about the soul and did not know that the sea was an age-old image of the soul - not soul in an individual, personal sense, but soul as a great cosmic sea of being, a hidden dimension of reality. It was only when I discovered alchemy through Jung's work, that I realised that the divine water spoken of by the alchemists referred to this invisible sea of soul that is the ground of our consciousness. The messages also told us to search for a stone that was buried at the foot of the Tree and to find our way to the Holy Mountain. Later, on a long journey to the East, I discovered that the Holy Mountain is perhaps the most important image in Hindu mythology and that it symbolises the centre of the universe. As for the stone buried at the foot of the tree, we took these images literally and began digging at the roots of various trees in our garden. But slowly it dawned on us that the messages were talking about a different kind of stone and a different kind of tree. Eventually, we realised that the stone we were told to look for might be the Grail itself, since this was one of the symbols or images of the Grail and that the tree was the Tree of Life (Kabbalah). But the Grail was also described as a vessel, a cup or a chalice. So where might we find it?

After many more years of search, and then writing The Myth of the Goddess with my friend, Jules Cashford, we discovered that stone, vessel and tree were ancient images of the goddess and that the goddess herself personified the great cosmic Web of Life as well as the hidden territory of the soul. And that both the Grail legends and alchemy had served as a vessel for holding and transmitting this ancient knowledge of the soul and the shamanic ways of opening to awareness and connection with it that had been all but lost over 4000 years. (the golden chain of teachers of the wisdom tradition who belonged to what was called the catena aurea)

Cecil Collins' painting "The Voice"
So, in our book, we wrote this about the Grail: "What is the Grail then, but the inexhaustible vessel, the source of life continuously coming into being, energy pouring into creation, energy as creation, the unquenchable fountain of eternal being? But this great fountain of soul life needs to be linked to the place in each one of us where life continuously flows into being as our life, and to the spontaneous outpouring of our individual heart in all the ways that we connect to others and to the life of the earth. The Grail now, as then, is a symbol that can offer us a new image of the human being released from bondage to tribal custom or religious dogma, serving the world through love and compassion, following wherever the heart leads, wherever the heart responds to something that overwhelmingly attracts it, until at last we find ourselves re-united with our source."

Robin Baring's painting "the Wave"
I will end with this painting as a tribute to my husband. As you can see, it carries the same imagery of divine Presence within the sea of the soul. And I would like to say that, in my view, each person's path to this revelation is unique. There is no one way that is right for all. We have to trust our instinct and follow its guidance because the emergence of each person's understanding contributes to the emergence of the new values - the emergence of the Young King. It is this process at work in the soul of humanity which may heal the Wasteland.


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