Alchemy and Eclipse
Understanding the Relevance of an Eclipse from an Alchemic Perspective
All solar eclipses occur at new moon, that is, when the moon is at its closest point to the sun and has no reflected light of its own. While a lunar eclipse occurs when the sun and the moon are on opposite sides of the earth and the moon is at its full strength, a solar eclipse lines these two great lights in one single line from our earth-bound point of view.
It is a matter of some awe and wonder that we can see both total lunar and solar eclipses at all. Although the sun is some 400 times bigger than the moon – a circle with a 40cm diameter compared to one with a 1mm diameter will give you their proportions – it so happens that the sun is also 400 times further away from earth than the moon and so, from our viewing point on earth, they are the same size. There are no other examples of this coincidence of size and distance in our solar system although several other planets also have moons.
From an Alchemic point of view, the union of the masculine and feminine aspects of our dual nature is expressed as the coniunctio, the mystical marriage of the sun and the moon. This process symbolises our inner union, when we do the work of integrating our unconscious aspects into our consciousness and correspondingly, as conscious aspects assume some of the more dream-like qualities of the unconscious mind. Another way to say this, is that we move from an ego-based consensus awareness to a deeper Soul-based knowledge of the Self. It is important to understand that, according to any definition of a human being that includes the inner dimensions of spirit or soul or consciousness, the ego is actually the instrument of self-realisation of the Self. Only an inflated, egotistical ego is in opposition to the Self. In its rightful function, the ego is the light whereby we access the darkness of the unconscious and integrate its content into consciousness.
This integrated ‘Self’ is the place we aspire to, to attain the knowledge, the feeling and the experience of our own wholeness. In Jungian terms, achieving this integration is what is meant by ‘Individuating’. We could understand this also, in the Eastern traditions, as moving towards Enlightenment, or in the West as fulfilling the command of the Oracle at Delphi to ‘Know Thyself’. When we attain this level of consciousness, we are at peace with ourselves and our inner conflicts ease. Our conflicts and difficulties in the world do not actually cease, but we are no longer so affected by these inevitable movements and changes, because we have a still centre within us that is able to observe these goings-on without us being caught up in or fully identified with those events.
According to Alchemic writings, the coniunctio takes place “in the belly of the closed house”. This is the alchemic vessel where the sun and the moon unite and in the West, these alchemic processes were performed in a round glass vessel. In the Alchemy of India and China, the Alchemic processes were literally to take place within the body of the practitioner, who stoked the inner fire to boil the inner cauldron, first in the lower and then in the higher parts of his or her body. There are connections here with Tantric and Taoist practices, both solitary and with a partner.
The coniunctio always takes place at the new moon, when the moon is at its weakest point of light, which is referred to as being ‘in the underworld’, the point of inner darkness. In this ultimately dark night, when the moon has no light, the inner union takes place. What occurs in real personal transformation and spiritual growth and awakening, is that when we are in our deepest depression or desolation or caught up in some other deep physical process, that is precisely when something new is generated and born within us. That is the point at which the coincidence of opposites occurs.
This moment is potentially dangerous, because instead of uniting, as these two forces come close together, they have the potential to destroy each other. Each has a shadow aspect, and the person could fall into great rational and ego inflation on the one side and completely deny the intuitive side of themselves, or, on the other side, they could become overwhelmed with their inner content and not be able to function in the ordinary world. But if the union is successful, then when the conscious and unconscious approach each other, then a real connection of love and self-respect takes place, where each part has its own rightful place and the individual moves into greater self-knowledge and peace.
And then this new Self, the one composed of a union and loving inter-relation of opposite qualities starts to manifest in the ordinary world of space and time. It does not mean that the person will not fall back into their old ways from time to time or even often. But something has now happened that reminds them of what they are capable of being and they move towards that again and again until eventually they live more in the new way of connection and wholeness than in the previous disconnected way. Finally they are able to maintain this balanced and whole way of being as a permanent state.
This is the inner process of individuating, of coming into being in the true Self. The process happens at any time in a person’s life, when events ‘eclipse’ them internally and externally in a personal way. The special relevance of an actual eclipse ‘out there’, is that the universe itself is playing out for us, in real time and space, the actual events that we strive for in our inner union. The actual day itself has a great store of energy with which we can link, simply by being conscious that such an event is occurring. We have an extraordinary opportunity of tuning in with these external events and making them a living part of our own bodies and minds and spirits. As we say, “if you don’t get it in the body, you don’t get it at all”. This is an optimum day for ‘getting’ in the body the goal of coming into our power and wholeness, where all the parts of ourselves are at peace with each other and so we can be at peace with the world as well. May we all be successful in attaining our own highest good.