Thursday, 6 January 2011

Spring 74: Alchemy

I've been reading Spring Journal 74, which has some deeply insightful essays on the lumen naturae, separatio, true imagination, and the alchemy of colour.

Elizabeth Eowyn Nelson's discussion, "Conflict as Creative Act: Psyche's knife, Separatio, and the Feeling Function", focuses on the image of the knife in the myth of Eros and Psyche. Nelson argues that the knife has been much neglected by analysis and artistic depictions of the tale, in favour of the lamp. Psyche is given the lamp and the knife by her sisters. They have convinced her she has married a monster -  Eros. She creeps into his room at night to obtain a glimpse of his face - the lamp, to cast light on the suspected monster, the knife to kill him. As it turns out, Psyche is overwhelmed by the beauty of Eros, but Eros is betrayed. He has forbade her to look at him.

Nelson goes on to relate the knife with the separatio of alchemy and makes the assertion that,

"[w]hen we take up Psyche's knife as Psyche did, we make choices with our vulnerable emotional bodies and not simply with cool, unfeeling intellect. Little wonder that our pace in such times is slow rather than brisk, we feel confused long before we are clear, and even clarity is evanescent."

Our symbolic use of Psyche's knife is a means of becoming conscious through finer and finer discrimination. The awakening of Eros by Psyche is to relinquish puer aeternus, the perpetual child, a world of possibilities with no genuine existence at all.

"The individual is one who has sacrificed the puer dream of being all things to become something more humbling but infinitely more valuable: a 'real fragment'."

Nelson introduces the paradox that only by becoming a real fragment can we relate to the eternal whole. Aware of our unique personal combination - by definition, limited - we then have the capacity for becoming conscious of the infinite. "But only then", cautions Jung.

Taking her thesis to a conclusion Nelson argues boldly, 

"Psyche's real guide is the cosmogonic Eros, the original, primordial force of love and desire who helped engender the cosmos... Even in agonising confrontation, the soul's fate is always erotic in the largest sense of the word: dynamic, fluid and relational... Sometimes eros flows towards another person, our work, a cause, an object or a place... At other times, the flow of eros is inhibited..."

Our task she states, quoting James Hillman, is "to trust that the movements of eros in our lives are meaningful and right."

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