Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, from Against Heresies (180-199 AD)
The subject of initiation is so foundational to alchemical understanding that it makes a broad statement about human existence. Or statements, maybe, but the one I'm thinking of is that humans are here to change and grow, not only in a physical sense, but also as beings of soul and spirit. Since I'm focused on Snow White's story, I've entered the archetypal zone again, as I did when I was working on the interp of Sleeping Beauty (earlier posts end of August). By "archetypal zone" I mean that my life becomes informed by the story in my learning/teaching, in my art and entertainment and other life events.
You may recognize the picture above as a depiction of Eve in the buff, holding her apple (see last post on apple). Adam's in an interesting pose, isn't he? Well it's symbolically quite appropriate. The upright hardness of the tree trunk is a symbol for masculine sexuality, and I'm sure you can figure why. But who's on the left? It's the Queen of Heaven, Mary, mother of God! (I'm tempted to magnify the picture and figure out the other symbolism but I'm resisting- maybe later).
I'm reading a book right now that yesterday clued me in on this interesting bit of Catholic doctrine (don't know if it's a part of Greek or Russian Orthodox churches). That being, the redemption of "woman" through this matter of obedience/disobedience; Eve initiated the fall of humanity into sin (the original sin) by disobeying the order to leave off the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And Mary, through going ahead with the virgin birth redeemed..well women, anyway. As we all know around here Christ is the Redeemer of the world in Christian myth, but it seems Mary gets some of the cred, too. Women are certainly needing some extra redemption help, owing to their double debt and all. I mean look at poor dazed Adam there, wondering what the heck befell him! Incarnation doesn't seem to agree with him. He's wiping off the sweat of his brow that God has promised him. Those meddling women...
The book I'm reading that spurred all this Marian stuff is Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary. This is an intense and dense piece of scholarship by Marina Warner I've had my eye on for many years and finally was gifted (gratefully). Mary has carried a tremendous amount of archetypal material for the Judeo-Christian world for so long, material that was previously taken up by many goddesses and other divinities. The saints help her out some. Undoubtedly I will do some posts on her at some point, but for my present purposes I'd like to point out that both Mary's and Eve's Biblical mythic events are depictions of transformation of consciousness, of initiation. If Eve's act is the story of moving further into embodiment and all its complexities, then Mary's is of the developmental stage of fully and consciously embodying Spirit or God and/or moving away from the duality consciousness Adam and Eve fall into. The new life that results from embodying the Word of God is the symbol of a new consciousness, symbolically speaking, not that people don't also have babies in the physical sense. The miracle is that every time they do, they bring into the world an innocent or unconditioned bit of Spirit.
Adam lay ybounden/ Bounden in a bond
Four thousand winter/ Thought he not too long
And all for an apple/An apple that he took
As clerkes find written in their book.
Ne had the apple taken been/ The apple taken been,
Ne had never our lady/Abeen heavene queen.
Notice the reference to Adam's being "bounden"? For a very long time? A sort of fairy tale-type time, like the hundred years Sleeping beauty was asleep, or the "long, long time" that Snow White lies in her coffin? The basic meaning of "bound" in such a situation means "limited". Did you notice also that the song doesn't say four thousand years, but four thousand winters? When does snow fall (as in Snow White)? Winter is a time when life on the Earth is suspended. Why would someone think four thousand years not too long? Seems rather obvious we're in the mythic zone here. Adam is Mankind quite obviously, for one thing. And the apple is made into a blessing, and Eve's sharing of it, since without the darkness, "sin", we will not be able to play the human game of discovering the light, "heaven".
So the feminine carries a lot of archetypal material for inner transformation for several reasons. Women, in line with their association with changeable Earth and moon, cannot avoid the Earth's imposition into their lives in the form of the changes of their reproductive cycles. And, Woman participates with this greatest of initiations, birth, in the capacity of its actual doorway. The woman is the doorway to life itself; suffering results in due course and the rest is kinda up to us until our deaths, though souls like Jesus and Mary and countless others are there to create doors leading to what we sometimes call these days "higher consciousness", too.
Death has this great power to transform the human interior landscape because often we find deep transformation through facing death, Hel in Germanic/Norse myth, whether it be through loss of a loved one, accident and illness in our own lives, or through the contemplation of fear. Human development certainly offers life stage deaths, as we die as a child to become an adult, die as a mother to become a crone, etc. We have all gone through countless initiations, deaths small and large. The natural world echoes and supports this, as everything around us is born and dies, even the hours and days of our lives. Often people resist initiations because it feels, as I said before, the same as death to us- and the rule is that something must die for the new to come in. That is the reason for the blood, for sacrifice. Just as women labor in pain and blood and sometimes even die to give birth physically, so there is often pain involved with birthing new selves, often physically as well as emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, with dark nights of the soul, for instance.
The picture above of Hermodr kneeling before Hel is very like the Christian redemption through death, like the initiations of Snow White and Narcissus and the fair sister of County Clare. Hermodr, Odin's son, a hero figure, is visiting Death in the form of the deity Hel, in her underworld realm, to ask for the redemption of his brother Baldr, the beautiful god of light, who has been murdered. Hel promises to release Baldr if the whole world, both alive and dead, would weep for him, similar to Demeter's weeping upon the loss of her daughter Persephone into Hades. Baldr's return to Niflheim, the place of the gods, heaven, is then a sort of redemption for the whole world, a return of light. The weeping is the grief of letting go, the pain of loss and suffering, and it allows the next thing to happen. Death is faced, the sacrifice is acknowledged completely and wholistically, down to the very bones, no exception, and the new age is ushered in.
In closing, I'll mention that the largest section in my book Poetry in Motion (on Amazon here) is the one on initiation, and besides Adam's Apples mentioned in the last post on the apple, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus also features an adolescent initiation on Valentina's part, as well as using the symbol of the apple rather freely. For a magical, heavily archetypal film that includes the themes of unity consciousness and everyday magic like tarot, it's fascinating to note that during the film Heath Ledger, who played one of the devilish characters, died during the filming- interesting truth for an initiation film! Three actors had to finish out his part, and director Terry Gilliam was inspired to change the credits as a result.
Next post will begin the journey into Snow White's transformation. Or should I do a post on dwarves first? Hm.