A core part of our work is using the seven alchemical stages of transformation as a framework for the processes that our psyches are continually going through. Maybe the most important and most challenging stage is mortificatio, in which we need to embrace dying to be reborn.
This fifth stage is called ‘mortificatio’ also sometimes known as fermentation or putrefaction. The substance being worked with is fermented or allowed to putrefy or decompose in some way. The individuality of the starting material (be it plant, mineral or ourselves) gets turned into the anonymity of death and decay, like humus. And in the darkest night, the deepest death, is the seed of new life. The decaying plant material in the forest is the soil from which new life arises. When we enter into the decomposition of what is no longer needed within ourselves, it’s like an inner or ego death. And then just at the moment when you think you’ve lost all hope, a new light appears–the promise of a consciousness. Just as the seed of darkness is in the brightest light, so there is a seed of light in the darkest darkness. This is important to remember because Mortificatio is a very challenging stage. It feels like you and/or everything you’ve known is dying. It feels irreversible. If we want to continue on the path of Individuation, we need to go through this stage.
The Raven and the Black Sun
This darkness has its own organizing principle, a mirror image of the world of light so to speak. Just as our world is energized and illuminated by the sun, both the sun in the sky and the sun of our consciousness, so there is also a black sun, the unseen source of the darkness and its dark energy. This means there are ‘rules’, a landscape, an orientation, beings. The raven is such a being, a psychopomp, a guide, a form of unconscious individuality of the darkness, along the lines of the lion on the solar side. During, or before such periods we may have dreams or visions of black suns and ravens and other death imagery. Or we may notice ravens or crows, or vultures, in everyday life.
When we are in this stage it can feel very challenging and negative, like an actual death. It takes us into darkness and a feeling as if everything is falling away. There is no energy left, no sense, no purpose, just a feeling of things rotting. Although it is difficult at the time, it is important to remember that out of death and decay come light and new life.
“The reason Dionysus has been banished from our culture is that he is the god of death and resurrection. Patriarchy with its unrealistic faith in the goals of this life, is built upon the denial of transformation and death. It cannot tolerate a God that dies – an Osiris, a Dionysus or a Christ. For men and women allowing the horned God to live in us means accepting death as transformation. It means living an incarnated life – a life in which incarnated spirit is allowed to transform matter. It means allowing spontaneity to burst through outworn patterns of thought and behavior, recognizing that these patterns are dead, and allowing them to die to make room for the new….the unconscious demands many deaths.” (Dancing in the Flames by Marion Woodman)
Not only as individuals but humanity as a whole goes through the alchemical stages. 2020 has definitely shot us into a new perception of where we are at globally. As Covid-19 spread through the world it felt very much as if we were all experiencing a sublimatio, which is the stage symbolized by air and helps us rise above our lives to see things from a different and new perspective. Now things have moved on, it feels very much as if we are all being asked to drop into our own individual and a collective mortificatio. We are being confronted with what needs to go, what is no longer of value, what was once deemed important and yet has now lost its rule over us. Mortificatio can often feel like a true death as the unconscious does not make the difference between real and symbolic deaths. However, we cannot avoid this necessary stage in the cycle as what does provides the soil for new growth.
We need to ask ourselves: What needs to die and be transformed in our own lives and collectively? What is not working anymore? What has run and finished its course? What do you and we as a collective need to let go of?
These are difficult questions if we want to answer them totally honestly.
A New Ally for the Dark Night of the Soul
We need allies at these times. The aromatic ally that we have been working with for mortificatio is Spiked Ginger Lily, called Kapoor Kachri in Hindi.
Its layers of aroma create a beautiful relationship between a deep earthiness and a sparkly aliveness. Smelling it, we are simultaneously pulled into the dark earth while at the same time made aware of the myriad of fresh life sparks that come from it. What hits me most about this oil is the movement that it generates. It is in the movement that we find solace, as long as there is movement there is life, it is when stagnation comes upon us that illness sets in. A healthy death, be it the ultimate death or the stage in the cycle when parts of us die, involves movement and new life of some sort – Kapoor kachri really does hold this message in its aromatic signature.
We used to use Palo Santo for this stage, but we had to let go of it, because it is critically endangered. So there’s a letting go of one ally, its loss emblematic of the destruction of the environment and climate change and the mortification process the entire world seems to be going through, and then we are joined by a new ally Ginger Lily.
So, if you are struggling with letting go of something, or a part of your life is falling away and its painful, this oil is here to support you and to help the psyche transit through this stage with as little resistance as possible. Its gently sedative action helps us to allow what is finished to decompose by muffling the anxiety and encouraging us to be a witness rather than fighting against this necessary transition. We need to embrace dying to be reborn.