Sand
  • Dyane Sherwood

UNDER THE SIGN OF MARS*


Illuminated Painting from the Splendor Solis, 1582, in the British Library

We see the Planet Ruler Mars in his chariot pulled through the heavens by two wolves, and on the platform in front of Mars sits a serpent coiled and ready to strike. On the Earth below, a peasant revolt is being suppressed by soldiers dressed in armor and riding horses. Despite the advantage of the soldiers, the peasants are fighting them. In the background, buildings are burning and soldiers are rounding up the livestock.

I interpret the symbolic contents of the vessel in the golden niche as representing the inner state when remaining fully present to the surrounding scenes of death and destruction, of the an worldly ruling authority taking advantage of ordinary people. The three-headed white bird balances only with great difficulty on the curved, darkened glass, while its divided consciousness is aware of what is going on all around: not avoiding or denying but witnessing.


The body of the bird is heart-shaped, to me indicating an expression of deep feeling, of the heart. In ancient Egypt, at the temple of Hermopolis (of Hermes, or Mercury), there were Ibises that had bodies thought to be shaped like hearts and who ate tiny, annoying insects with their curved beaks. Thus, they became associated with Hermes and alchemy, the Hermetic Art.


The White Ibis is also associated with the alchemical stage of albedo, the first transformation from the black, amorphous prima materia. This stage is one where the transformation is underway and should not be disrupted by action.


The golden crowns worn by the bird and that surround the closed vessel suggest that the refraining from action is in the service of the royal art of alchemy, of transformation. But at this time we cannot see how any positive transformation can take place or how the situation could be resolved.

*I discussed this image in the book I co-authored with the late Joseph L. Henderson** and in a recent Myth Salon*** lecture (available on YouTube).

**Transformation of the Psyche: The Symbolic Alchemy of the Splendor Solis, Routledge, 2003; beware the paperback, which has no color illustrations)


You may be interested in a new film on The Changing of the Gods, featuring Richard Tar


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