IMG 03: From a diagram outlining seven stages of alchemical process in The Glory Of The World or Table Of Paradise, in The Hermetic Museum edited by Arthur Edward Waite.
IMG 05: Plate 09 of Philosophia Reformata by Johann Daniel Mylius.
Let it be known that birds are the flight of thought. Not only bird however, but winged creatures in general such as angels. The wings often denote intuition, spiritual potentiality and the consciousness-transcending goal of the self. This visual impression is rather like a snapshot of an evolving process as it ascends the quintessential hierarchy. The initial stage of alchemy is the blackening, nigredo, which the alchemists called 'a black, blacker than black', antimony, pitch, coal, lead burnt copper, scorched ivory, grand confusion, calcination, nox, melanosis, etc. Its ontological status is likened to an existential void, an abyss. The key symbols that augment the melanosis are the raven and the skeleton/skull. The skull is the vessel of alchemical transformation, wherein one undergoes a living death, identified only with the vacuousness of the ego's relative position; a suffering of spiritual poverty. The skull soliloquies of Faust and of Hamlet are reminders of the appalling senselessness of human life when 'sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought'. C.G. Jung says that in some cases the human skull, was considered to be the actual vessel of transmutation and was used in the work because the brain is the lodging house of the divine part. 'The Cranium Of Death', caput mortuum, is the head of the black Osiris; the mercurius philosophorum who undergoes death, resurrection and transformation into an incorruptible state. Thus the anonymous author of the Novum Lumen Chemicum exclaims: "Our heaven! O Our water and Our Mercurius! O dead head or dregs of our sea!... And these are the epithets of the bird of Hermes, which never rests". This bird of Hermes is the raven, of which it is said: "And know that the head of the art is the raven, who flies without wings in the blackness of the night and the brightness of the day". He is a restless, unsleeping spirit, "Our aerial and volatile stone, a being of contradictory nature". So, too, is E.A. Poe's raven, which has been "wandering from the night's Plutonian shore," and which becomes the capital or dominating principle of the narrator's thoughts by perching upon the bust of Pallas. Once again, an alchemical approach would seem to indicate that Poe's raven is not simply a symbol for melancholy, but carries many other connotations as well. In other literature the raven is akin to the Moor, Ethiopian, and Negro,
This great liberation is the death of the commanding self, nafs amara, known as the ego. The black substance of our own shadow must be met and reconciled before a healing commences: "With the death of the lion the raven is born", meaning, when the desire dies, the blackness of death sets in. The birth of a healing power, from the blackening, belongs to the archetype of the wounded healer. It reflects the psychological capacity as stated by Karl Kerenyi; 'to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there to find the germs of recovery with which as though by enchantment, to bring forth Asklepios, the sun-like healer. This healer's mother is named Coronis, meaning 'crow maiden'. Also, there were three champions known as Raven Kings. Odin the Norse God who had two raven prophet-messengers (winged black mercuries), Huginn and Munin. The second was King Arthur, who in Wales and Cornwall was believed to inhabit the raven's body, while his half-sister Morgan le Faye was the Raven Queen Morrigan, a death-goddess who took the form of a raven. The third king particularly connected with the raven was Bran the Blessed, the Irish cult-hero, whose very name 'Bran' means 'raven'. Bran was also connected with Saturn, the 'black' Planet, which symbolized alchemical lead. Mythologically, Bran and Saturn were both eaters of flesh, the corrosion of substance. Through the Calcination, a lighter condition can emerge, accordingly, in Northwest native lore, the raven carries a ball of light into the sky, so we no longer live in darkness. In Vedic texts, Saturn is described as riding a crow and carrying a skull. The raven is also a widespread icon of superstition. In the
ISA 32:11: After the Battle of Armageddon, ravens will descend upon the lands of the wicked.
Putrefaction must do its work before the body can be joined to the soul, for solution and putrefaction begin with a fetid smell, and the processes gradually develops, and therefore the caput corvi is known as a deadly poison. The odour is rather intellectually than sensuously perceptible. The blackness precedes the whiteness, for, all things that are to grow and receive life must first putrefy. However, the putrefaction is the unification of the white (dove) and the black (raven), the latter being the spirit that dwells in the tombstone. The ravens that gather up the seed (or the product of the union) and then fly with it to the tops of the mountains represents the helpful spirits of familiars who complete the work when the skill of the artifex has failed him. They are not, as in Faust, beautiful angels, but dark messenger of heaven, who at this point themselves become white. The raven is the black soul of the king and queen, which must purify through their alchemical wedlock.
- Mysterium Coniunctionis (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.14) by Carl Jung
- Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.12) by Carl Jung
- Alchemical Studies (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.13) by Carl Jung
- The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teachings of the Royal Art by Julius Evola
- Alchemy and Mysticism: Hermetic Museum by Aleander Roob
- Alchemy by Titus Burckhardt
- Symbols of Sacred Science by René Guénon