Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Black Sun

The following text is from the English Heretic talk and performance at The Apiary Studios - 20th June - backed by Kevin Quigley's Spiritual Heat Free Jazz ensemble.

Max Ernst's "Cage, Forest And Black Sun"


Tonight I want to do discuss explore the concept of the black sun from alchemy to archetypal psychology, the soul's desire for nekyia and the dangers of literal interpretation of this desire.Once we can apprehend the vital need to take refuge in our psychic hypogeum and understand this to be a very real meditational space, then i'd like to offer the possibility of insight in the truest sense of the word. The ability to see in the dark. Once we can see in the dark, then the imagination has at its disposal, the mechanism for creative vision: of achieving the myth of our age. I'd like then to propose this mechanism as the true escape hatch to the psychedelic; evidenced in such disparate cosmonauts as Sun-Ra and Max Ernst. After all psychedelic merely means soul revealing. Finally I'd like to offer a Mithraic ritual, designed to be be employed only at a time of emergency, its express intention of bringing into conscious operation, the celebrant's own hidden nature, the root substance of their being.

The Black Sun, as with all alchemical ciphers, is a marriage of opposites. But why were the alchemists so obsessed with such absurd conundrums? Does The Black Sun represent an ontological truism, or more to the point the agony of perfection. Is the Black Sun a warning against spiritual inflation – the monotheistic notion that we can achieve godhood through simple solar ascent – in other words through the goodness of Christ. To the Greeks, Christ was just one of many Gods, his correlate Heracles. But Heracles too had to clean out the Augean stables, work in the manure, the prima mater. But maybe it is less a warning, a more a clue as to where the true inner light can be found. Hand-in-hand with sol niger, the black sun, goes the term lumen naturae – the natural light or the luminous vehicle. It said that the shine of darkness is the lumen naturae. But this kind of lumen is a subtle one. Imagine a dank tomb, really imagine it, its smell and feel, and you'll start to see maybe a drop of moisture hanging from a cobweb. Its not a burning light, an overpowering ketheric bliss, but a wet jewel, a malleable form of light that can be worked with, can be used to guide you in the dark. Perhaps The Black Sun represents a psychic fact – the necessity of working in the dark to discover our true imagination.


The Black Sun is also a dalliance between thought and image – introspection and seeing the world as it really is, of not thinking – the impossibility of meditation; the esoteric urge to bliss or negation of bliss. The Black Sun is a kind of light that the darkness comprehends. The Black Sun is a complexity or maybe in analytical parlance, a complex.

As the archetypal psychologist Stanton Marlon states:
It can open the way to some numinous aspects of psychic life and give us a glimpse of the miracle of perception, the mystical union of thought and image; logic and intuition. 

But here arises a problem. If The Black Sun is a psychic truism, then do we merely follow its motifs into reality?

Part 2.

What are we to do with the soul's desire for descent? Literally sacrifice ourselves at the mid-summer solstice? I'll return later with a very real example of such an insanity, but want to talk about the nekyia. The deep priest of archetypal psychology James Hillman in his heretic workbook Dreams And The Underworld offered the aphorism “stick with the images”. Dreams And The Underworld is a polemic against the literal interpretations of dreams. He likens them to the nekyia – both a Greek cult practice in which ghosts are communed with to inform of the future, and a physical journey, a katabasis, or physical descent into the underworld. He argues that therapy has overconcentrated on treating dreams in the context of the day world. That we interpret them as capital for greater psychic efficiency in our lives. But the material exploitation of dreams has led to the crisis of of complexes and anxieties that riddle our modern psyche. He advises us to work with the images of the dream like a sculptor, instead of lazily equating that snake we encountered while sleeping as a phallic symbol, describe how it looks, its colour, its texture. Is this approach not similar to the notion of the working with the Black Sun as a real meditational device – of working with the malleable, moist light of the lumen naturae hanging from the cobwebs in our hypogeum? Is it not a more truthful way of understanding the automatic cinemas of the unconscious; sure there's less a given truth of healing from the outside, but a more tangible set of clues toward soul revealing.

At The Summer Solstice in 1966, Robert Cochrane, a self-proclaimed neo-pagan witch and Master of the Clan of Tubal Cain, decided to offer himself to the gods. His life was in turmoil, a rising star of the occult scene, his mundane life collapsing around him, his marriage disintegrating while he took a lover from the coven he headed. When the schism of the ordinary and the glamorous created a psychic crisis, he took this as a sign to commit ritual suicide. In his council house, on June 23rd Cochrane took an overdose of librium (prescription for his depression) and belladonna (growing in his garden). The sacrifice didn't quite succeed straightaway and as he sank into unconsciousness, huddled himself in a sleeping bag on the couch. He remained in a coma for 10 days before passing away in hospital. A very suburban, tragi comedy from the heart of the Black Sun, Cochrane's self-sacrifice is the perfect proverbial warning against literal interpretation of the soul's desire for nekyia. John Lilly, psychedelic pioneer, voyager of deep brain phenomena under the influence of LSD, suggests that there are lethal neurological programs such as suicide that can be activated by hallucinogen use. Could it be also that there are antique ritual analogues within the brain that Cochrane with his ritual self-deliverance was acting upon?

Part 3.

If The Black Sun is not a juvenile indulgence of the dark then it is a jewel to create a larger mythic appreciation of our nekyias. When the surrealist Max Ernst was a boy, he had a beloved pet parrot. He tells of his major childhood trauma, when at the moment he discovered the bird dead, his parents rushed into the room to announce the birth of his sister. From then on, his imagination fused these two events. Experimenting with the techniques of decalcomania, the most fantastical chimera of woman and exotic plummage would reveal itself in the masterpiece "The robing of the bride". Indeed Ernst even constructed a deeply enigmatic work “Cage, Forest And Black Sun”, in which a dark frottaged background has a small bird scratched in white within its cage, at the hearth of the wood. Alchemical woodcuts depicting the blackening stage, the nigredo of the great work, are replete with images of doves and crows. Ernst is an example par-excellence of creating myth from the complex that is the black sun, of giving apotheosis to traumas, to re-imagining them as universal cosmic events. And perhaps birds and flight represent alchemy in reality, there is movement in nigredo.


The free-jazz legend Sun-Ra joined a black masonic lodge at the age of ten. It was one of the few places afro-americans had access to literature. As a teenager he suffered from chronic testicular hernia which caused him great pain, shame and isolation. During a period of deep religious concentration, after dropping out from college he experienced a profound vision, in which he was teleported to Saturn and saw himself on stage surrounded by aliens with eyes on antennae. They instructed him the world was in chaos and that he should speak to them through his music. Sun-Ra goes onto invent a cosmic arkestra. It would be easy to neuroticise Sun-Ra's vision as the by product of a mental health crisis – but what if we look at from the perspective of alchemy. Saturn is the planet attributed to nigredo, the blackening stage, again we have the idea of flight as an escape vehicle to a greater vision – is not the lumen naturae also a lenticular spaceship, our drop of dew, warping before our eyes. Dr. Michael Persinger, pioneering researcher into the neuropsychology of alien abduction phenomena proposes that such experiences are inducible by send low level magnetic frequencies across the temporal lobes. His original hypothesis came from the study of bereavement hallucination – death and vision, again the oxymoronic truth of the Black Sun.

HP Lovecraft's cosmic horror came from the profound isolation of his introverted personality and the terrifying nekyias of his nightmares. His final tales, “The Shadow Out Of Time” and “Colour Out Of Space”, prophecy the age of the UFO. I would venture to suggest the weird psychedelic orbs he describes in these stories are the luminous vehicles of the Black Sun. The occultist Kenneth Grant has made a divine dark occult cosmology weaving together all manner of strands of syncretic esotericism with Lovecraft as the prophet. He even claims that it is possible to enter a state of creative vertigo if one listens to the jump rhythms of Jazz musician Count Basie. In his delirious voyage of occultism, music and UFOlogy “The Outer Gateways”, Grant explores the sonic formulas for invoking extraterrestial entities. In doing so, he investigates the Persian mystery cult of Mithras and extrapolates on one of their rituals, suggesting that it contains within it a primitive language of hissing, popping and clicking. He relates this to Lovecraft's description of the sounds heralded by the proximity of the Old Ones, and alien contactees descriptions of the sounds of extraterrestial space vehicles. The Cult of Mithras on an exoteric level, was a solar cult. But the Victorian GRS Mead scholar of the rituals of the sect observes:

“Mithra was not the Sun, either in the Iranian religion or in the Mithraic mysteries”.
Their rites may be concerned with the transformation of the physical body through yogic breathing similar to the Hindu practice of Premdeha. In other words of “evoking from the depths of our own being, our primal substance or root-plasm”. The analogy with Ernst and Sun-Ra's creative working with their core experience to create their own myth is tangible, and hopefully one can now apprehend a connection between the symbol of medieval alchemy and hatha-yoga. In the final part of tonights talk, I'd like to perform the first section of this Mithraic ritual.

The Ritual

THE INVOCATORY UTTERANCE (LOGOS).
1. O Primal Origin of my origination; Thou Primal Substance of my substance; First Breath of breath, the breath that is in me; First Fire, God-given for the Blending of the blendings in me, [First Fire] of fire in me; First Water of [my] water. the water in me; Primal Earth-essence of the earthy essence in me; Thou Perfect Body of me - N. N. son of N. N., son of N.N. (fem.) - fashioned by Honoured Arm and Incorruptible Right Hand, in World that's lightless, yet radiant with Light, [in World] that's soulless, yet filled full of Soul!
2. If, verity, it may seem good to you, translate me, now held by my lower nature, unto the Generation that is free from Death; in order that, beyond the insistent Need that presses on me, I may have Vision of the Deathless Source, by virtue of the Deathless Spirit, by virtue of the Deathless Water, by virtue of the [Deathless] Solid, and [by virtue of] the [Deathless] Air; in order that 1 may become re-born in Mind; in order that 1 may become initiate, and that the Holy Breath may breathe in me; in order that 1 may admire the Holy Fire; that 1 may see the Deep of the [New] Dawn, the Water that doth cause [the Soul] to thrill; and that the, Life-bestowing Æther which surrounds [all things] may give me, Hearing.
3. For 1 am to behold to-day with Deathless Eyes - I, mortal, born of mortal womb, but [now] made better by the Might of Mighty Power, yea, by the Incorruptible Right Hand - [I am to see to-day] by virtue of the Deathless Spirit the DeathlessÆon, the master of the Diadeins of Fire - I with pure purities [now] Purified, the human soul-power of me subsisting for a little while in purity; which [power] I shall again receive transmitted unto me beyond the insistent Bitterness that presses on me, Necessity whose debts can never go unpaid - I, N. N., son of N. N. (fem.) - according to the Ordinance of God that naught can ever change.
4. For that it is beyond my reach that, born beneath the sway of Death, I should [unaided] soar into the Height, together with the golden sparklings of the Brilliancy that knows no Death.
5. Stay still, O nature doomed to Perish, [nature] of men subject to Death! And straightway let me pass beyond the Need implacable that presses on me; for that I am His Son; I breathe; I am!
IV.
[THE FIRST UTTERANCE.]
Silence! Silence! Silence!
The Symbol of the Living God beyond Decay.
Protect me, Silence! †!
Next "hiss" forth long: Sss! Sss!
Then "puff" saying: †!

[THE SECOND INSTRUCTION.]
When, then, thou see'st the Upper Cosmos clean and clear, with no one of the Gods (or Angels) bearing down on thee, expect to hear a mighty thunder-clap so as to startle thee.
Then say again:
THE [SECOND] UTTERANCE (LOGOS).
1. O Silence! Silence!
I am a Star, whose Course is as your Course, shining anew from out the depth 20.0pt'>†.
Upon thy saying this, straightway His disk will start expanding.
2. And after thou hast said the second utterance - to wit, twice Silence and the rest - "hiss" twice, and "puff" twice; and straightway shalt thou see a mighty host of stars, five-pointed, emerging from His Disk, and filling all the Air.
3. Then say again:
O Silence! Silence!
And when His Disk is opened [fully] out, thou shalt behold an infinite Encircling and Doors of Fire fast closed.
Straightway set going then the utterance that follows, closing thy eyes:
THE THIRD UTTERANCE (LOGOS).
1. Hear me, give ear to me - N. N., son of N. N. (fem.) - O Lord, who with Thy Breath hast closed the Fiery Bars of Heaven; Twin-bodied; Ruler of the Fire; Creator of the Light; O Holder of the Keys; Inbreather of the Fire; Fire-hearted One, whose Breath gives Light; Thou who dost joy in Fire; Beauteous of Light; O Lord of Light, whose Body is of Fire; Light-giver [and] Fire-sower; Fire-loosener, whose Life is in the Light; Fire-whirler, who sett'st the Light in motion; Thou Thunder-rouser; O Thou Light-glory, Light-increaser; Controller of the Light Empyrean; O Thou Star-tamer!
2. Oh! Open unto me! For on account of this, the bitter and implacable Necessity that presses on me, I do invoke Thy Deathless Names, innate with Life, most worshipful, that have not yet descended unto mortal nature, nor have been made articulate by human tongue, or cry or tone of man:
ëeö · oëeö · iöö · oë · ëeö · ëeö · oëeö · iöö · oëëe · öëe · öoë · ië · ëö · oö · oë · ieö · oë · öoë · ieöoë · ieeö · eë · iö · oë · ioë · öëö · eoë · oeö · öië · öiëeö · oi · iii · ëoë · öuë · ëö · oëe · eöëia · aëaeëa · ëeeë · eeë · eeë · ieö · ëeö · oëeeoë · ëeö · euö · oë · eiö · ëö · öë · öë · öë · ee · ooouiöë!
3. Utter all these with Fire and Spirit once unto the end; and then begin again a second time, until thou hast completed [all] the Seven Immortal Gods of Cosmos.
When thou hast uttered them, thunders and crashings shalt thou hear in the Surround, and feel thyself a-shake with every crash.

Then once more utter Silence!

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