from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

the winged messenger flying backwards

I'm rather fond of Mercury – planet, god, archetype. He's a good patron god for the writer, a kind of tutelary deity to artists generally. Mercury, the quicksilver messenger, communicator par excellence, is known in Jungian thought as a psychopomp – one who leads souls between the 'lower' and 'upper' realms of matter and spirit respectively.

In alchemy, no transmutation/transformation is possible without this swift winged spirit to counter the pull of base, or leaden, matter, symbolised by Saturn; the gravity of the ego so resists the process of transformation into all we might be, into the 'gold' of ourselves, also known as the Higher Self, that part of us which works for the greater good rather than simply the gratification of our own desires.

In Greek his name is Hermes, from which we get 'hermetically sealed'. So this god is associated, too, with secret processes and places hidden from prying eyes: the alembic, the container of alchemy in which the crude substances are 'cooked' under pressure until the hieros gamas, the Sacred Marriage of soul and spirit, can take place; from this union is born also the Divine Androgyne, the one beyond duality. The hortus conclusus, in some ways the 'garden of the soul', is dedicated to and protected by Mercury, also.

Mercury is often also portrayed carrying the Caduceus wand or staff. This is the common symbol of healing or wholeness, now used by the medical profession, around which, in some depictions one, and in others two, serpents twine. There's much to say about that, too, but here let's just say that the twin snakes around the central (spinal) column may well represent the ascending and descending kundalini currents (life-force, Eros, libido, vital energy – call it what you will) – which create and maintain the the balanced and awakened energies of life, both in each living being and arguably, esoterically, in the cosmos at large – twin currents or poles of energy and manifestation, the synthesis of which is our inner work. Think too, of course, of the twin currents of DNA, the double helix.

You'll notice that in the image above left the staff (unserpented in this case) carried by Hermes is topped by the symbol used for the planet Mercury: a circle crowned by a pair of horns, or the crescent moon. This suggests that Mercury, like Cernunnos and Herne, is one of the horned gods in the service of the Goddess.

Mercury is also androgynous; this is fitting for one whose work is to help take us beyond the pairs of opposites.

People who are strongly Mercurial in their character often have an androgynous quality to them – think Gemini (whose ruler is Mercury), Castor and Pollux, the twins who represent the constellation of Gemini, Apollo and Artemis: the male and female twins who are deeply interlinked and in some ways remarkably similar. Have you noticed this (the androgynous quality to some individuals born under Geminin/Mercury, I mean)? And they are often boyish or girlish in their bearing, habits, and attitudes long after they've physically left adolescence. They have a charm to them, and are usually articulate communicators; they often exhibit a trickster-ish playfulness, an often marked artistic ability, and an attractively elusive quality (which can manifest in relationship as an inability to commit, and an irresponsibility which stems from a fear of being tied down and grounded – death to this airy spirit – which can drive one nuts, in my experience!). In Jungian thought, they are the puer aeternus, or puella aeterna – the perpetual boy, or girl; a Peter Pan figure.

The reason I'm speaking of Mercury here is because we, cosmically speaking, are in what astrology calls a time of Mercury retrograde: astronomically, although the planet Mercury is in its usual trajectory around the sun, as we are, from earth it looks as though the planet is travelling backwards at the moment.

This retrograde cycle of Mercury happens 3 or 4 times a year, for about 3 weeks, plus lead-in and move-out times. This year, each cycle has been in a water sign. Right now, he is in the sign of Scorpio until 10th November. 

In the philosophy of 'as above, so below', and not looking at causal ideas so much as synchronous events (synchronicity was Jung's term for what he identified as an 'acausal connecting principle'), we can perhaps read in Mercury's apparent movements symbolic suggestions as to what we might expect 'down here' during a Mercury retrograde cycle: a confusion in the fields of usually-clear thinking, or communication; crossed wires; travel disruption; computer glitches (especially email/computer/mobile phone glitches – Mercury is so suited to the role of the god of cyber-communications); and things being delayed or lagging behind when they should have been tied up by now, perhaps. (Just after I wrote this my sort-of step-daughter emailed her dad to say she'd missed her flight from Argentina to Chile as the buses weren't working.)  

Traditionally, a Mercury retrograde period is not auspicious for contracts and legal documents or binding agreements to take place; they might need revising after this period.

It's not always a good time for initiating creative projects, either; although I often notice I feel very creative during one of these periods, I am often muddled as to where to begin – much to say and frustration at knowing how best to get it out.

On the other hand, with Mercury in a water sign (Scorpio), which suggests emotional matters, secrets, and events which in the past may have touched us deeply, we might yet have the opportunity to revisit a time, situation, or person with which, or whom, we have not yet quite completed a process. Memories, and the role of memory, might be significant here, and at this dark time of the year in the Northern hemisphere, an evening by the fire with a notebook or journal and an intention to revisit the past by letting whatever wants to arise from the psyche do so, might prove fruitful and healing.

If you're merely experiencing frustration after delay after miscommunication, hold still and give it another two weeks, if you can, without pushing the river.

© Roselle Angwin, November 2013


  1. Hey Roselle,
    Another fascinating post! Many thanks once again :-) I've been wondering why I've been seemingly inexplicably irritable this week :-0
    Re the caduceus I had always understood the medical symbol to be the Rod of Asclepius, a staff with a single serpent held by Asclepius, a greek deity of healing and the medicinal arts. I think the confusion is very common and it is used officially in America that way but apparently the two snaked caduceus had associations with eloquence, trickery, negotiation and only tangentially with healing through it's association with alchemy and wisdom. It became a bit of a pet peeve of mine at college so apologies in advance for being an irritating pedant!
    I hope all's well with you, not rushed off your feet too much :-)

  2. Naomi, thanks for adding to this - your comments, assenting or dissenting, are very much appreciated and enjoyed!

    And you are quite right in what you say about the Rod of Asclepius and the American co-opting of the dual serpent rod. I did think before posting what I did, and I knew someone would pick me up on it! - as classically what you're saying is correct; but symbolically, in the more 'hidden', arcane or esoteric healing arts (which - importantly - include the feminine principle, which is probably the one demoted and devalued to trickery and mischief, as you've suggested), I suspect the dual serpent is quite important.

    Once again, though, I have a hunch that this double-serpent, representing perhaps the marriage of masculine and feminine of the individuated person, or of matter and spirit, or electricity and magnetism if you like, and associated (like the dragon and the original serpent in the Garden) with wisdom, was ousted and somewhat demonised in the monotheistic cultural mindset.

    I can't immediately give you a source or evidence for that; it's more a convergence in my mind of a great deal of studying and thinking about this and related subjects over the last 40 years :-).

    VERY busy here - but good things, including many new ideas for next year's programme, and dealing with publicity and stuff surrounding the new Dartmoor novel.

    Hope you too are well... Warmest, R

  3. Ah! You know, even as I worte that comment I was thinking to myself 'she probably knows this and there are probably many more layers of meaning to these symbols than I'm aware of but nevermind - pedant ahoy!' and so it is :-D
    It does seem that duality or the balancing of multiple opposing forces is a fundamental part of life and of imagary both historical and modern.
    "Ousted and somewhat demonised in the monotheistic cultural mindset" - oh indeed, that wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. Gotta love those black and white thinking monotheists. I often wonder what sort of culture we would have and what state the world would be in now if we had managed to keep the place of the feminine in our culture. It makes me so mad when I read of the often quite literal and deadly demonisation of women by the early church. And they weren't the only religious group doing so. I'd love to get back to the sort of Earth Mother/Great mother values of pre and early history :-)
    All the best and thanks for not taking my pedantry personally and sharing more of your thoughts about it:-D

  4. Naomi, I'm a pedant too - so I smiled! And - don't get me started on demonisation of the feminine - my first novel looked (a bit) at that, and how it was that in C11th/12th/13th Europe the feminine had a significant place, but by the C14th we were being burnt as witches. I have a LOT to say about all this - in some ways the whole of my work looks at how we demonise matter, the feeling nature, intuition, land and the feminine in our age, and how what we need is to transcend duality by recognising the place and importance of both streams - let's say yin and yang - in ourselves and the collective. Hohum. More anon, no doubt - and more and more! - Am working erratically on a book about all this... :-). Thanks for the conversation, Naomi. Rx


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