The Union of Purposeful Polarities
Light and dark. Heat and cold. These are some of the primal archetypal polarities that underpin the world and its workings. For example, we experience these archetypes within the natural cycles of the earth. The Winter Solstice: dark and cold. The Summer Solstice: light and heat. And these as archetypes are prominent in many ancient mythologies. In Norse mythology the precursor world begins with a gaping void. On one side of this void is Niflheim, the elemental ice realm of dark and cold. On the other side is Muspelheim, the elemental fire realm of light and heat. Over eons, each realm crept closer to the other. Then, at last, through an explosion of mixed elements, a third realm was created and therein was born the giant Ymir, a precursor to the human being.
Though in our digital and screen-based culture we too often forget the cycles of the natural world in which we are biologically and psychologically embedded—a fellowship, if you will. The cycle of the seasons is an expression of our living, breathing Earth. By celebrating the seasons—either through an external ritual or through meditative attention—we may connect with the sacred in-breath and out-breath of the Earth’s soul because the biosphere exists within the planetary rhythmic process of expansion and contraction. The entire cycle of the seasons, with its increase and decrease, growth and decline, is required for the Planetary Organism to present itself in its entirety. The entire natural year is a single animation that manifests itself through rhythm.
Spring-Summertime is a soul expansion of the earth, while Autumn-Wintertime is a soul contraction of the earth. Presently the Southern Hemisphere is undergoing the expansion of the approaching Summer, while simultaneously the forces of contraction are strengthening in the Northern Hemisphere as it looks toward its Winter. Across the natural world there is the concurrent process of out-breath and in-breath, exhalation and inhalation. Everywhere reciprocal opposites work in concord for the dynamic whole… and our souls breathe similarly.
Other polarities exist in archetypal narratives, too. For instance, the Sun is often employed as a symbol of consciousness and of the fully awakened day, and the Moon is engaged as a symbol of the unconscious and the nocturnal. Within a 24-hour cycle, the literal sun and moon each traverse the heavens along their separate trajectories. In this way, they remain faithful to their individual identities and missions while co-working as a cooperative fellowship. The motif and mission of one completes the motif and mission of the other. Such archetypal pictures go beyond mere duality; there is a polaric process of exchange. Fundamentally, all life and all life-bestowing forces arise through the creative interplay between polarities.
Another natural but Cosmic image that we can ponder is the full Solar Eclipse. With such an event we can ask ourselves as to whether the light is renewing the dark, or vice versa? And in this eclipse of Sun and Moon, which is holding the other? And furthermore, what about Sunrise and Sunset? Each rapturous event arrives imbued with its own special hue and mood. Both events are required to give the natural day its round. The Sunrise opens the world with expanding light, while the Sunset leads the world into the gathering dark. Goethe’s studies in colors, including famously those of the rainbow, suggest that colors arise out of an interaction—indeed, a conversation—of the light with the dark. According to Goethe’s color theory, both light and dark are equally substantive. Both are required as contrary, yet supplementary, twins of each other.
Manichean spirituality propagated a dualistic view of good and evil. Good and evil were protagonists in eternal opposition. This expressed itself in the ceaseless battle of light and dark. The darkness is not to be despised because, developmentally, we require darkness—both psyche-archetypally and bio-physically. Darkness is essential, whether it’s the darkness of our bowels for the purposes of digestion, or the prima materia darkness of alchemy: the raw, undifferentiated material, which alchemists require for the Magnum Opus to produce the Philosopher’s Stone.
A triune approach features in many mythologies. In all true alchemical processes, we don’t tarry with the primary duality, but rather work to birth a third element, one which is born out of the exchange between contrary poles. In alchemy, the sulfur is the masculine, mercury the feminine, and together they birth a salt condition. Symbolically the “salt” may be understood as the resolved, integrated, and individuated human being. In mythological narratives, various key protagonists represent either sulfur, mercury, or salt conditions.
It’s in the energy exchange between otherwise discrete poles that gives birth to a third element, the resolution beyond the primary poles. Of course, many things in life appear to display absolute duality. Perhaps they appear so because of our perceptual or imaginative poverty. However, what is important is that we grasp our encounters with polarity in everyday life, and in the lived friction as a means of generating soul, societal, and cultural growth. If faithful to its mission, polarity serves a worthy purpose—a process of leading us towards an integral wholeness in the realms of psyche and of the natural world. As Joseph Campbell states in The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, “It’s a matter of planes of consciousness. […] There is the plane of consciousness where you can identify yourself with that which transcends pairs of opposites. We always think in terms of opposites. But God, the ultimate, is beyond the pairs of opposites, that is all there is to it.”
But our topic is not to remain as a mentalist abstraction. We are to engage with the process of polaric exchange consciously, deliberately, and with deep feeling. Then, polarity may be an enlivening mentor for the soul and we can act in the luminosity of our most integral selves. As such, our presence can fill rooms and streets with an emissive light and the sweet fragrance of life’s variant beauty.
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