Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nigredo


Here's an image appropriate for a Saturn-night for all Mensch ohne Frau and for those suffering from depression or the Blues. It's from the alchemical anthology Theatrum Chemicum (vol.4 1613). As C.G. Jung first recognised, many alchemists were embryonic psychologists who attempted to describe the workings of the psyche. Here the adept is seen under the influence of the malefic planet Saturn, commonly associated with blackness, melancholy and the metal lead. The Nigredo or Blackness was often interpreted as the first phase of the alchemical opus. C.G. Jung  describes the Nigredo thus - 

'the Nigredo not only brought decay, suffering, death, and the torments of hell visibly before the eyes of the alchemist, it also cast the shadow of melancholy over his solitary soul. In the blackness of his despair he experienced.. grotesque images which reflect the conflict of opposites into which the researcher's curiosity had led him. His work began with a katabasis, a journey to the underworld as Dante also experienced it'. [1]

C.G. Jung was immersed in the collected writings of the Theatrum Chemicum so much that when he visited India in 1928 he travelled with a copy of the alchemical anthology. It contains the principal writings of the foremost protagonist of Paracelsian alchemy, Gerhard Dorn (c. 1530-1584) and indeed, Gerhard Dorn is one of the most frequently quoted of all alchemical author's cited in C.G.Jung's collected works..

Sir Thomas Browne also owned a copy of the Theatrum Chemicum [2].  In all probability its from Browne's reading of Gerhard Dorn that he 'borrowed' the image of an 'Invisible Sun' which is alluded to at the apotheosis of his discourse Urn-Burial (1658).

 'Life is a pure flame, and we live by an Invisible Sun within us'. 

In Urn-Burial the 'dark half' of the diptych discourses, Browne succinctly alludes to the Nigredo as being  -  'lost in the uncomfortable night of nothing.'

It's fascinating to discern that in all probability Browne and Jung both contemplated the image of the Nigredo as reproduced in the Theatrum Chemicum.  

Wiki-links -  Nigredo - Gerhard Dorn - Theatrum Chemicum
[1] C.W. 14: 493
[2] Sales Catalogue page 25 no. 124
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