The Philosopher’s Stone and the integration of the Brain
Mysterium Coniunctionis was Jung’s last great work. He was engaged on it for more than a decade, from 1941-1954, and finished it in his eightieth year. The book therefore occupies, as one critic observed, “the culminating position in his writings” (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung). In it he compellingly links the practices of alchemy and psychology through a profound analysis of symbolism and an examination of their shared ideas of the integration and ‘union of opposites’. As he notes, “Not only does this modern psychological discipline give us the key to the secrets of alchemy, but, conversely, alchemy provides the psychology of the unconscious with a meaningful historical basis.”
It’s a fascinating, illuminating, and at times breath-taking study, which draws not only on a wide number of alchemical texts but also on Kabbalistic ideas and symbols such as Adam Kadmon (Primordial Man), the Sefirot, and the union of the ‘Holy One’ and his bride. According to Jung, humankind has historically moved from a condition in which it projects the contents of its unconscious onto the world and heavens to one in which, as a result of a total identification with the rational powers of the ego, it has not only withdrawn its vivifying projections from the world but also fails to recognize or understand the archetypes of the unconscious mind.
Possessing and Perceiving: William Blake and the Art of Perception
Introduction: In the Beginning was the Image
“Seeing comes before words.” We are rooted in imagination.
Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.
But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.
The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.
The Human Form Divine: Sacred geometry and its relationship to our physiology
Section 1: The Nature of Sacred Geometry
Measuring Urizen: The geometry of geometry
This first section explores what is meant by “sacred geometry”, studying and measuring its terms in relation to the study of physiology, the ‘science of life’. It therefore provides a sort of “geometry of geometry”. This seems apposite: the very idea of measuring is after all embedded in the word “geometry”, which comes from the ancient Greek words Geos, meaning “Earth”, and Metron, meaning “to measure”. The act or assumption of measurement is therefore contained within the system that is used to measure reality. Urizen thereby inscribes itself in the very utensils it uses to explore the deep: as Neil Postman acutely observed, “within every technology there is embedded an ideology” (Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology). These sorts of isomorphic (or “fractal”) repetitions and self-reflections constitute one of the defining characteristics of sacred geometry.
Sacred geometry is usually understood as the science and study of the fundamental patterns, shapes, forms, proportions, and ratios that constitute the basic nature of physical, physiological, and psychological reality. In ancient traditions, these geometries were considered ‘sacred’ because they recurred with such remarkable frequency and on so many different levels, thereby seeming to suggest a ‘hidden order’ to the world. As Skinner notes, “geometry and numbers are sacred because they codify the hidden order behind creation”. As such, they were sometimes considered to reveal the “mind” of God: as Galileo succinctly put it, “Mathematics is the alphabet with which God has written the universe.”
Revolutions in Being: The Meaning of the Nativity in Blake’s Vision
It is strange how the worship of the Christ-child penetrated the hard old Roman-built world. It was like the perfume of a lily, of a mass of lilies, whose roots have broken rocky soil, whose shining whiteness enchants the air. An infant conquered the nations; the human race lifted up its eyes and sang a new song.
“Slowly the perfume, the song reacted in beauty in men’s minds, and the beauty took to itself form and colour and rhythm, became incarnate in churches and statues, gorgeous in tapestries and paintings, vocal in poetry and music.” (Image: detail from Fra Angelico’s Annunciation of Cortona,1433–1434).
Slowly, through those centuries of a crumbling empire and a resilient faith, the perfume, the song reacted in beauty in men’s minds, and the beauty took to itself form and colour and rhythm, became incarnate in churches and statues, gorgeous in tapestries and paintings, vocal in poetry and music. The human spirit passed from Caesar to Saint Francis, from the Colosseum to Chartres Cathedral, from pagan frescoes to Fra Angelico, from Greek choruses to Palestrina, from Virgil and the cynical later poets of a disillusioned autocracy to Dante and the epics and lyrics of new languages seeded and nourished by the old.
The Worship of the Serpent: The Awakening of Eve and the Generation of Nature
The Symbol of the Serpent: Introduction to Blavatsky’s work
Blake’s art speaks in symbols. But what exactly are symbols? And why are all of the deepest ancient esoteric truths always communicated through symbol and image? Pike suggests that symbols are the most powerful way to mediate and convey a “truth” that lies beyond ordinary conscious, “rational” thought programmes and parameters: “The first learning in the world consisted chiefly in symbols. The wisdom of the Chaldæans, Phœnicians, Egyptians, Jews; of Zoroaster, Sanchoniathon, Pherecydes, Syrus, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, of all the ancients, that is come to our hand, is symbolic. It was the mode, says Serranus on Plato’s Symposium, of the Ancient Philosophers, to represent truth by certain symbols and hidden images.”
And one of the most powerful, and recurrent, of all these ancient symbols, he notes, is that of the serpent or dragon. “This will be found to be confirmed by an examination of some of the Symbols used in the Mysteries. One of the most famous of these was THE SERPENT. The Cosmogony of the Hebrews and that of the Gnostics designated this reptile as the author of the fate of Souls. It was consecrated in the Mysteries of Bacchus and in those of Eleusis. Pluto overcame the virtue of Proserpine under the form of a serpent; and, like the Egyptian God Serapis, was always pictured seated on a serpent, or with that reptile entwined about him.”
The Divided Therapist: Hemispheric Difference and Contemporary Psychotherapy
In The God of the Left Hemisphere I explored the remarkable connections between the activities and functions of the human brain that writer William Blake termed ‘Urizen’ and the powerful complex of rationalising and ordering processes which modern neuroscience identifies as ‘left hemisphere’ brain activity. In The Divided Therapist I extend this analysis, exploring its implications for our mental health and the practice of therapy itself – the regeneration and reintegration of the psyche. If the first book was about the “fall into Division”, this book is about the “Resurrection to Unity”: the restoration of psychic wholeness.
The Symbol of Symbolism: Unravelling the form and nature of the underlying Energy
Introduction: Entering the Serpent
Sometimes it’s good just to look at Blake’s images, and let them approach you, without any verbal text, theory, or explanation. An encounter with their other-ness. Over the next few weeks this site will be posting a number of articles exploring the meaning and importance of the symbol of the serpent in Blake’s work, which weaves throughout his vision, and twists and turns throughout his images.
Can the Theories of McGilchrist and Žižek Help in Understanding and Responding to Ideological Influences on the Delivery of Psycho-Social Care?
Introduction: McGilchrist, Zizek and Healthcare
This article developed from my work as a psychotherapist and manager within the National Health Service (NHS) from 2008 to 2017. It is a response to the ideologies influencing those areas of health policy which are related to emotional wellbeing through the United Kingdom’s statutory health services.
My work has been based on the theory put forward by McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary (2009) that traits associated with the natural functioning of the human brain’s left hemisphere, which have evolved to enable us to analyse and manipulate the world around us, also have a propensity to distort the ways in which people mutually interact with their cultures over time. McGilchrist’s book covers two main themes: the neurology of the brain hemispheres and the cultural influence that arises from this interaction. He proposes that when they are unchecked by the moderating effect of the right hemisphere, the left hemisphere traits have an undue influence which is reflected in deleterious effects upon people and their culture.
McGilchrist explores many cultural aspects but he does not include an overall sociological viewpoint from which to study the wider societal impact of his theory, and it is here that I turn to the work of Žižek, who writes extensively about ideology as well as many of the problems confronting societies today, such as subjectivity, capitalism, human migration and social exclusion.
Blake, Boehme, and Left Brain Verstand
Boehme’s influence on Blake, although often acknowledged, is frequently underestimated and has never been comprehensively investigated. Much modern criticism regards Blake’s work as non-transcendental, even secular. This is partly a reaction against earlier criticism, which was more sympathetic to Blake’s connection with the mystical tradition. The argument of this article, however, is that Boehme exerted a continuous and pervasive influence on Blake, and that recognition of this can illumine some of the most difficult and contradictory elements in Blake’s work. These include the attitude to the body and the senses, and the metaphysical status of the selfhood and the created world.
Boehme’s system represents a synthesis of many different currents of thought, including the Dionysian via negativa, the Hermetic tradition, the Kabbalah and the Lutheran faith. It is emphasized, however, that his philosophy arose from intense mystical experience rather than academic study, and that he chose to express it in symbolic and mythological terms rather than rational concepts.