Jung: Alchemy and Nigredo

(This is from a sister website, www.heartcurrents.com)

As mentioned in yesterday’s post about the adaptive strategy of depression, the Jungian metaphor for the journey is that of the “nigredo”, the first stage of alchemy. Although the excerpt below is primarily about the encounter with the psychological shadow that needs to be dealt with, it is also descriptive of the encounter with mortality, the powerlessness of it all, that having a heart attack brings.

The blackening is about depression, the melancholia, that is often the initial stage causing one to slow down and examine life, that brings one into therapy, … The encounter with the shadow is invariably experienced as a mortificatio: dark shadow aspects of the Self have to be confronted and assimilated into consciousness; the feelings of guilt, worthlessness and powerlessness have to be suffered, taken on and worked through. As a prelude to resolving conflicts and warring elements in the psyche, a cleansing process was required involving an examination and withdrawal of projections. The nigredo stage was known by the alchemists to be dangerous: poisonous vapours of lead and quick silver (mercury) were generated or the vessel itself might explode due to over-heating. Safety apart – the alchemist, paradoxically, had to observe the value of patience in order to move the work on. (Source)

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