Emerging into Your Authentic Self: Nigredo in Ancient Alchemy / by Sam Abelow

Rosko Green falling into the depths - Photograph by Rachel Sanfilippo

An article written by my long-time friend, Jeff Moss

Carl Jung pioneered the interpretation of alchemy in a psychological sense, as it was for centuries very mysterious and veiled by imagery and symbolism. The first stage of alchemy, the Nigredo, equates to the popular concept of the "dark night of the soul." This experience is key to psychological transformation and can be painful and trialling, much like labor pains in birth.

The Dark Night of the Soul

Nigredo roughly translates to “blackness” or “blackening,” and in alchemy was considered the first stage toward the ultimate goal of obtaining the philosopher’s stone. Initially, Calcinatio is the main alchemical operation in which the chemical ingredients (or prima materia) first must be refined and cleansed by intense heat and burning, that would result in a blackening of the material. The desired result was to burn away any imperfections or alien substances, to leave behind only the purest of substances.

Rosko Green sings, during the chorus of Lost in Gardens, “I’m going back to the start; Burning down to the bones; Clearing up my heart; Wanting just to know.”

In this initial stage of Nigredo, one goes through emotional intensity -- a burning, which is unpleasant and involves suffering. However, this suffering is valuable, as it often arises through confrontation with the shadow. In Jungian psychology, the shadow is an aspect of our unconscious that involves all of our flaws, our repressed personality and the painful experiences we would do anything not to confront. If we can take the initiative to understand the shadow, and persevere through the transformation that such a confrontation will involve, we can emerge to become more authentically ourselves.

Integrating the Shadow

Confrontation of the shadow involves breaking down one's own self-judgments. Characteristics we don’t like about ourselves are often the result of judgments society teaches us. These judgments are ultimately turned inwards, and result in repression of so-called negative aspects of the total personality (the self). This leads to a false self, that is unseen. Separating these aspects of the unconscious, and learning how to re-integrate them into a more unified true self, brings a rebirth and eventual harmony.

The experience of discovering the true self involves understanding the false self and all of its shame and ugliness, in order to free-up the potential that lies within. When we embrace the shadow, it unveils the path towards our true self.

“Moving across the water [the unconscious]  ‘cause I don’t know my name [self/identity]; Won’t be holding on much longer because it’s bringing me so much pain [dark night/nigredo],” Rosko sing during the chorus of Rise and Fall.

 

This is a problem with taking drugs like anti-depressants. Rather than confront the symptoms -- which are signals from the unconscious -- and getting to the core of the issue, the external substances blanket and continue the repression, which inhibits the necessary confronation.

As a society, we must honor the universal theme of the dark night, and take time to undergo these processes of transformation. This way individuals will feel validated in taking the necessary steps to become more unified -- as in, aware of their darkness. Awareness of one's own shortcomings leads to greater compassion and engenders greater understanding of each other.

Songs of Longing

Rosko’s debut studio album summarizes this initial stage of transformation, beginning with this theme of Eternal Sleep. From the beginning, we can see that the final solution is one in which light, or consciousness, is poured onto the darkness, or shadow, within. Dear reader, join Rosko on a journey where he confronts his loneliness, isolation, and self-doubt.

The song, Ghost Girl, may at first seem like a romantic song, but with our knowledge of alchemy and psychological processes, we can now see that it’s really about understanding our inner ghost or shadow aspects. Through recognizing the messages of the unconscious contents, the curse of the shadow is lifted.

By confronting his own shadow Rosko identifies that he hides his authentic self from people. That is why he screams “I don’t wanna hide no more!” This energy is an expression of the intensity of nigredo as a necessity in psychological transformation.

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