The Last Question

Along with everyone else, I just learned from Bonnie that there was a server glitch, This explains the deluge of emails I received from Book Club members yesterday and this morning. Some of these were posted a week or two ago and thus, I didn't respond. Sorry! Please be patient and I will do my best to offer comments asap - some of these posts are lengthy and require considerable attention on my part. I am so impressed with the level of scholarship in this!

As we enter the final week of our May Book club I offer the last question:

Where do we find alchemy in today’s society? Is alchemy dead? If not, then what are its applications? What is “Alchemical Activism”?’

Please do not hesitate to comment on anything else that is on your mind that relates Osiris and ancient Egypt to a depth psychological perspective.



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  • Hi Thom,

    Thanks so much for a deep and inspiring discussion this month. While I haven't been able to participate as I would have liked to, I've folllowed the comments quite closely and have found so much richness in the journey you have led us on. The beauty, of course, is that these comments will live on in infinity, archived for future members to come and taste--perhaps a bit like an Egyptian tomb that offers sacred treasures to the worthy :)

    I wanted to respond to your question about alchemy today. If people listened to the interview we did together, they may remember your example of the woman who was divorced and wanted to rid herself of the routine presence of her ex-husband by writing his name on paper and putting it in the freezer, only to be told by you that she'd be better to burn it instead of 'preserving' it--and thus also preserving the unwanted situation. I still think about this regularly and find it so profound. I think we all do this kind of thing rather instinctively, and while there is much that is alchemically symbolic to be seen in the world around us (anything with the (four) elements--a flood, a mudslide, a house fire a few streets down--a "deluge" of emails that suddenly appear out of nowhere :) ) and can be taken metaphorically, I also champion the idea of taking intentional alchemical action (alchemical activism as I see it!).

    If you (any of us) feel challenged or disturbed by something, think about how you can engage fire, water, earth, or air to alchemically initiate a change. You can "burn" bad habits into ash and scatter it to the wind to carry away forever; you can water the seeds of consciousness or desired change; you can bury something in the earth and let the earth transform it (anger, bitterness?). I'm not suggesting this is a magical way out, but taking some ritual physical action in the material world often seems to open the energetic channels to allow something that needs to shift to shift. Very powerful stuff! I so appreciate all the depth of your work in this arena, Thom, and thank you so much for your own Osiris soul....

    • Dear Bonnie,

      Your note adds to the many others posted by the Book Club that reflects a deep understanding and appreciation for the material I've presented in my writing and in this forum. It has been a real pleasure and honor to bring to light Osiris and all that he means to us today. Thank you for the opportunity. I am glad that you hinted at a distinction needed to distinguish magic from alchemy; the difference is oftentimes indistinct. Magic is about controlling Nature, alchemy about facilitating it. Alchemy was in fact the first laboratory science and so it still has relevance today. Just this week I was watching Stephen Hawking's program that had segments featuring examples of regenerative medicine, one in which a soldier's blown off leg muscle was replaced by the matrix from pig tissue and another that used cells from rat babies to regenerate heart muscle. These examples are only part of the vast number of research experiments being conducted in the name of science. In truth, this is the wild west of biochemical experimentation. While I applaud these efforts and expect they will change our world, I ask, "What kind of world might it be without soul?" Ethic panels are insufficient to the task before them. It is simply too easy to rearrange body parts of living animals; even environmental groups can't stem the efforts of commercial enterprises that are blind to the needs of our living  planet. Alchemical activism goes way beyond the simple example I gave (even though it was meant to start the wheels turning). I advocate for the return of soul to science, but truly haven't yet imagined what form that might take, one that is contemporary and has public support. I do believe that Jungian depth psychology can be the conduit from which this form might emerge. Subjects like synchronicity and dream analysis still have a mystical appeal that can be built on. I doubt very much that this effort will be completed in our generation, but I think we are fast approaching a tipping point where great decisions with great consequences must be made. A careful examination of the revolutions in the Middle East are contesting this very premise; after all the struggle is less about jobs than freedom - the stuff of soul. We must find a way to turn the opposites from conflict into a complementary relationship where mind and matter form a whole union. I see the work you are doing and incredibly the scholarship of the Club's members as being part of this grand experiment.

    • Beautifully stated, Thom. It scares me and encourages me at the same time. I do believe there are many of us who feel the same about seeing the return of soul to science (as well as politics, healthcare, environmental issues, education, and so much more...).

      And I agree with you about the tipping point even fantasizing on occasion that it may already by too late. However, I was listening to a talk by NYT journalist Thomas Friedman this morning about the state of our culture and planet (he was quoting someone else) but said "We have exactly enough time starting now." I think that's one of the core tenets of alchemy as well--timing is everything and still everything works with exactly the right timing if we'll only engage. It takes individuals to make up a community, just as it takes soul to make alchemy. Here's a prayer that each of us will go forward in soul!...

  • Hi Thom, thanks for the notification- I think I missed your last question and I'm not sure if I can see all the posts you are referencing.   I have been reading your book and I am very impressed with your attempts to convey the complexity of looking back at the Egyptian culture and perspective from 3000 BC or so.  I am thinking a lot about your description of how the Gods, Godesses and archetypes operated for the Egyptians, to try to experience them more as "state of mind and psychic functions rather than as well-developed gods whose identities were defined by more recent cultures" (p.7) and that their "style of thinking was concrete and based on immediate, tangible experience" (p.11).  I am not finding the quote I want, but I remember a description you gave as these archetypes functioning on a more concrete numinous level- not as abstract figures that represent different energies but that they were actually the primal energy itself.  This idea it seems to me gets at the heart of what a lot of astrology attempts to explain through all of its multiple complex systems of thought.

    My mind is currently processing a lot of the astrological references which I wasn't expecting- especially Saturn as it relates to lead in the alchemical process- this is very fascninating to me and definitely goes with a lot of astrological thought.  About the revolution, you may remember me mentioning that the revolution really kicked off in full glory at the same time Saturn stationed retrograde in Libra- Libra all about experiencing  extremities in human relationship in order to find a balance- Saturn as the initial stage of the alchemical process, like lead, like Osiris and his "weariness as representing a dark, unrefined condition" after mating with Nephtys and getting tricked into the coffin with Seth.  Which makes me think of the revolution itself as an alchemical process that is reaching a new stage of growth at this time with the election yesterday and all of the global media focused upon events in Egypt again.

    Your quote "Osiris, then, is the archetypal energy activating the unconscious so that it is not only a repository of memory, but also an incredible resource in everyday life" makes me think a lot of the Second house in western astrology birth charts, which is like the Taurus house (some astrologers interchange the signs and houses; some keep meaning for houses separate from the associated sign) and usually relates to resources we can draw on, material resources as well as our value systems.  I will later integrate some info on the associated astrological ages, but basically these events occurred during the Age of Taurus (very roughly 4220 bc - 2160 bc) when Osiris seemed to develop- this goes along with all of the Bull imagery and association with Osiris and also parallels the bull worship in Crete and elsewhere at that same time period.  In the Age of Aries that followed (roughly 2160 BC - 1 AD) a big figure who emerged was Moses and I'm struck by the Osiris parallels- Moses as a baby sent down the Nile, like Osiris in his coffin, to end up at the House of Pharaoh and lead his people out of slavery in Egypt.  Anyway, back to Osiris-  I see the Taurus associations and also there are obvious Scorpio associations, the polarity in the Taurus-Scorpio axis of astrology.  As I read more of your book I will hopefully get a more collected thought process together to post while you are still here to work with us.  I am grateful for the opportunity to receive your feedback so I will do my best to get something posted while you are still here.  My life has been crazy busy lately and so it has delayed my efforts here.  Thanks again for your attention to this group.

    • Thanks Gary for the astrology lessons. I'm really enjoying the parallels you describe between astrology and alchemy. Whether we talk of lead or Saturn, the real importance is the dark energy that each symbolizes and the goal of integrating the unconscious Shadow into the conscious Self. We need these symbols to represent these energies. One of my favorite alchemical recipes is "The way is easy for those who have the symbol." This is what fascinates me with Osiris: beyond all the symbols in his appearance and his myth, there is a deeper meaning that has to do with an essential property in nature that explains the dynamics of being. I just discovered that Pauli was also interested in oscillations, the dynamics of how things emerge and dissolve; he then postulated that oscillations account for spin in particles. It is truly awesome to think that these subatomic movements behave in similar ways to things like black holes. (As above, so below) Then, when you bring in various astrological epochs that influence earthly events, I am just blown away. To think that the Apis bull - the very symbol of Osiris's ba (soul) - comes under the auspices of Taurus is just too much... I also never made the "Nile" connection between Moses and Osiris - incredible; adds to the Akhenaten connection with Moses. With regard to the revolution in Egypt, I think there is an over concentration of Sethian energy as represented by Mubarak, the military and extreme religious groups. While I applaud the Egyptians for rewriting a draft constitution that allowed free elections and then, actually holding elections, I fear that the Supreme Council with make sure that the constitution will not limit their power and unfortunately, the outcome of this election is likely to lead to a run off between two candidates who are too heavily weighted toward that Seth energy; it makes little difference whether it is the Muslim Brotherhood or one of Mubarak's old politicos, neither will further democracy or increase basic human rights. Ironically, I believe this one-sidedness may create an enantiodromia that could right the balance and bring forth a "Horus hero" to bring about a peaceful and meaningful resolution to the crisis - this could take a very long time.

    • Thanks Thom- I have a clarifying question about Saturn as representing Lead in the alchemical process- I understand the significance of the shadow, but you also seemed to be implying the significance of saturnian limitations, restrictions, obstacles, boundaries, depression- do you think these are as significant in the process as becoming conscious of the shadow and working on integrating it? I realize at times they are one and the same. Those other descriptions of lead are almost exactly the same descriptions used by most astrologers with Saturn.


      Also about Taurus and Osiris-  Venus traditionally rules Taurus so it is also perfect that Osiris is associated with Venus, as well as being the God of fertility and bringing agriculture, which also goes with Taurus.  Those dates I used for ages are from Alan Oken and his classic astrology book but you will find various ranges for the ages- basically, though, around the AD shift is the beginning of the Age of Pisces we are at the end of now (and the fish symbol there obviously goes with Christian symbolism and stories of Jesus with his fisherman, and the polarity of Virgo and associations there).  Alan Oken really sparked my interest in these ideas with his description of how the Taurus-Scorpio axis fits the age dominated in our modern literature by Egypt, with the agricultural and bull worship side (Taurus) and attention to the dead, serpent symbol on the pharaoh, and transformation (Scorpio). Its really thought provoking to read your book and see all the deeper tie ins with Osiris.  In addition to the serpent intertwining symbolism that does go with Scorpio, I'm seeing a lot of associations on the alchemical journey of Osiris going from the God of agriculture (Taurus) to ruling the underworld (Scorpio).  One key especially being your discussion of taboos:  "The world soul, Anima Mundi, and the transcendent Self envision this light that is trapped within our decaying body, a self-serving ego, and, more generally, the unconscious. From time immemorial there have been taboos to keep one from discovering this divine inner light, for unless we are ready to receive it we will either misuse this sacred light or destroy ourselves" (p. 101). Scorpio has multiple levels of symbols, the scorpion being the lower, the phoenix and the eagle a Scorpio who has moved on to a higher level of consciousness.  One key aspect of Scorpio as part of an individuation process ultimately leading to higher levels of consciousness, can at times be exploring cultural taboos and ultimately finding more of one's true self by the end of the process.  In the story this seems to be part of Osiris undergoing a scorpionic alchemical transformation into the lord of the underworld and dead:  impregnating his sister Nephtys who was also his brother's wife- this being part of his Lead-Saturn phase leading into Seth reacting with the limitations of sealing him in a coffin and sending him on a journey that ultimately leads to an alchemical transformation.  In healing work, confronting and becoming aware of the shadow side can often involve with experiencing taboos of a culture or testing taboos in different ways- often leading to a lot of shame and guilt and depression, but in the end an awareness of the shadow that can ultimately in the end, very much in a spiral process like you described in the book, propelling one forward into higher states of awareness and consciousness.  But as you mentioned it takes an evolved consciousness to not misuse the power, this seems part of the spiral shadow exploration and humility that can also come with it.  It is also fitting in this story that the taboo involves sex, because sex is also very Scorpio and linked with the alchemical transformation that occurs when two individuals unite and mesh their physical and etherical beings through sex, and also really links back to some of the Jung-Freud arguments about sex and the fear of death the ego might feel from giving itself over in the act of sex (I think this idea ironically actually came from the patient Jung experienced a taboo with through having an affair with her- Sabina Spielrein, who wrote "Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being") .  It is very thought provoking to see how these alchemical concepts fit with concepts of astrology- this book club opportunity with you is really fascinating for me- thank you!

    • There is so  much great material here (again, many thanks, Gary), I will limit (!) my response to your initial question. Yes, I see a direct association between lead and Saturn, and yes, I do emphasize this quality of limits. But, let me qualify what I mean by limits. Jung described a spectrum with instinct at the bottom and archetypes at the top; individuation means evolving consciousness from its dark, Saturnian base to higher spiritual levels. How? The alchemists believed that no such evolution could occur if there weren't already a bit of gold or spark latent in the lead; thus, gold is germinated. Lead has its own fire, literally; applying operations, working with the Shadow, this spark is gently "heated" up using various operations. (all too often, this last procedure is reduced to "confronting one's shadow.") Another possibility involves exhausting the instincts. This is I assert in my book what happens when after eighty years of war, an indecisive court trial (the first of its kind) and the intervention of gods and goddesses, Seth seems to simply give in and accept the judgement that Horus is the rightful heir! The only sense I can make of this uncharacteristic conclusion to the fight for Osiris's throne is that Seth, as symbolizing instinctual consciousness, has expended its energy. From a systems perspective this is just what happens: the system can only contain so much chaos (Seth) before it explodes/implodes and a new system is "born" that can contain greater amounts of chaos. These iterations continue until it reaches the "true gold" that is a whole, balanced system that needs no more iterations of itself - a god like condition, the philosopher's stone. By limits, I mean that threshold or tipping point that is reached that creates a phase transition from a lower to higher system. This is precisely why Seth is never destroyed and why in fact he is put under the watchful eye of Ra who brings him on board the solar barque to frighten people, scare of the dangers before them. He is, in a sense, the solve in the recipe, solve et coaglua, a beautiful recipes of the individuation process, if not life itself.

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