THE QUEST FOR VISION

SCRAPBOOK

A DAY CONFERENCE AND EVENING PERFORMANCE ON STORYTELLING AS A HEALING ART
Our theme is the Black Sun, an alchemical symbol for depth, death, soul and vision. Jules Cashford Xanthe Gresham Jeremy Reed Martin Egan Tom Bland Ashley Ramsden Sat 25th Sept The Nave, 1 St Paul’s Road, London, N1 2QN

ASTROLOGY, INITIATION AND THE BLACK SUN

Lisa Mendes

My own personal relationship with this mysterious symbol began in the winter of 2007 when I underwent a period of depression and spiritual crisis, peaking around the winter solstice – the darkest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. During this time, suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, day literally turned into night as, deprived of sunlight, I gradually found it more and more difficult to sleep.

Looking to my astrological chart for answers, I discovered that my progressed Sun was exactly contacting the Immum Coeli or IC – cosmologically, the darkest part of the chart, situated at the nadir or 'midnight' point - under the earth. Many people do not realise that the four angles of the astrological chart map the daily movement of the sun, with the Ascendant marking the constellation on the horizon at sunrise, the Midheaven or MC therefore correlating to midday; and the Descendant, to sunset.

This is because there are actually two sets of movements in any astrological chart - the clockwise movement of the sun during the course of its diurnal cycle, marked by the angles; and a slower, second anti-clockwise movement - that of the stars and constellations, through which the sun also moves during the course of its annual cycle.

As I began contemplating the symbolism surrounding the progressed sun in my chart as a sun hidden in the depths of the earth and paradoxically, a sun that shines at midnight, an image of a dark or black sun began to form.

At the time, I was learning more about the philosophical strands lying behind the esoteric traditions of the west whilst studying for an MA degree in Cosmology & Divination at the University of Kent (which sadly, is no longer.) So as part of my research, I began trying to find references to such symbolism in academic journals and articles, as well as the mystery and alchemical traditions of the west and near east.

It was reading Peter Kingsley's 'In the Dark Places of Wisdom,' in which he alludes to an ancient relationship between Apollo and the underworld, particularly within the healing and prophetic traditions of ancient Greece and the near East, that set me off in the research direction that finally became the subject of my thesis.

Realising that the symbolism might have its roots within the same traditions and world-views out of which western astrology emerged, I decided to focus my research in this area. The result was ‘The Midnight Sun – In search of Astrology’s Dark Roots’ in which I trace the connections between alchemy, astrology and ancient mystery cults such as Mithraism, all of which rely on a particular cosmological view in which the Sun is thought to journey through the heavens by day, and through the underworld by night in a circular motion from east to west and then from west to east again – something which is still represented within the geocentric perspective and the four angles of the astrological chart to this day.

On my own research journey, which I tend to equate with the process described by Robert Romanyshyn in his book, ‘The Wounded Researcher’, in which you allow an internal image or symbol to address you and guide the direction of your research, I had to grapple with the interpretations of this mysterious symbol provided by several great thinkers, including Carl Jung and Henry Corbin. This not only forced me to consider the meaning of this symbol on a personal level, but also its role within the context of Western esoteric initiatory processes such as alchemy and the mystery cults of the Hellenistic period.

Jung is well-known for his treatment and study of the black sun or sol niger within western alchemy, whilst Corbin tends to focus on two images: black light and the Midnight Sun, both of which he outlines most clearly in, ‘The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism’ - an interpretation of Islamic hermeticism in which the Midnight Sun becomes a symbol of religious transcendence - the ultimate encounter of a man with his angelic counterpart or tutelary spirit – the Angel of the Face.

From my own perspective, I began to feel that the Black Sun and the Midnight Sun were two distinct entities: the former, related to death and dissolution – the stage of nigredo in alchemy – and the position of sunset in terms of the four ‘phases’ of the sun on the astrological map; whilst the latter is related to rebirth – the state of albedo in the alchemical process – in which a rebirth occurs and a light is born from the darkness itself.

In his book ‘The Black Sun,’ Stanton Marlon examines this idea through the alchemical concept of the lumen naturae – the inner light or spark said to be concealed within the prima materia. In his alchemical writings, Mylius expressed this inner light, this hidden sun, as white salt - ‘the shining white dove’ hidden in the dull black lead of Saturn. Often represented as an uroboros or alchemical dragon, it is also described by Jung as representing the circular movement of the alchemical opus, which can be seen as a circle or wheel, imitating the natural movement of the cosmos.
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Mylius, Philosophia Reformata, 1622, p.305 in Jung, 1959, Jung, 1959, p. 139 (CW 9, part 2, para 215) Jung, 1993, pp.292-294, par.404

It was at this point that I began to realise that, like macrocosm and microcosm within the hermetic tradition, alchemy and astrology were intimately linked. Reading further, it became clear that many of the traditions in which dark solar symbolism appeared were rooted within a shared cosmology or worldview which Peter Kingsley traces back to ancient Mesopotamia – also the birthplace of astrology.
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Furthermore, this cosmology also formed an integral part of many of the Hellenistic mystery cults, and dark solar imagery, as well as the theme of inversion, can be found in several of them, including Mithraism and some of the Isis cults. Roger Beck’s study of Mithraism identifies a correlation between the Sun and Pluto/Hades within certain degrees in the cult, together with an emphasis on the solstices and equinoxes; whilst the writings of Apuleius, thought to depict an initiation into the mysteries of Isis, contains an image of inversion, with the initiate exclaiming: ‘At midnight I saw the sun shining as if it were noon…’
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If one equates the process of initiation with the journey of the Sun as it passed through through the Underworld during the course of the night from sunset to sunrise, then the Black Sun becomes synonymous, not just with the phase of sunset, but also with the beginning of the work – the alchemical nigredo when the initiate symbolically dies and enters the Underworld setting out on his own night-sea journey through the darkness towards the dawn of his spiritual awakening.

The Midnight Sun then appears to relate to a separate phase – the climax of the initiate’s journey, when the initiate encounters a god, goddess or an angelic or spiritual being who reveals to him a great secret – and an inversion of sorts takes place – a stage often marked by a reversal of the process that takes place in the upper world in which a light is born from or shines in the darkness.

In cosmological terms, this movement from darkness into light is reflected in both the daily and the annual cycles of the sun. The solstices, particularly the winter solstice was a phenomenon that many of our ancient ancestors thought important enough to mark with great stone monuments and the orientation of their buildings, many of which appear to be aligned with the sun’s rising and setting at this seminal moment in the year when the earth reawakens and life begins to stir again.

The fact that astrology still bears traces of this ancient cosmological worldview not only adds another layer to its rich tapestry of symbolism, but also roots one within a particular orientation towards the cosmos.

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For a fuller treatment of this, see the introduction to my dissertation which can be read online at: http://www.scribd.com/Dissertation-Introduction/d/21113607 4 See particularly his scholarly work, ‘Ancient Philosophy, Mystery & Magic – Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition.’
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Robert Graves’ translation

As Henry Corbin himself wrote:

[J]ust as we have learnt to understand alchemy as signifying something quite different from a chapter in the history of …our sciences, a geocentric cosmology will also be revealed to us in its true sense, having likewise no connection with the history of our sciences. Considering the perception of the world and the feeling of the universe on which it is based, it may be that geocentrism should be meditated upon and evaluated essentially after the manner of the construction of a mandala.

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