Nigredo and Satan’s descent

Satan’s Fall from Gustave Dore’s illustration of Milton’s Paradise Lost

In Memories Dreams Reflections, Jung (1989) says, “As far as we can discern the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being” (p. 382). In the statement there is tacit acknowledgement that we begin in darkness, which is also the alchemical phase of nigredo. What I found interesting in the week’s readings is the way nigredo was considered by Jung (1968/1937) as an “initial state,” “quality of the prima materia,” and/or result of an achemical operation (p. 208). In psychological language, Jung calls it the, “horrible darknesses of our mind” (p. 238) likening it to a soul-affliction.

The alchemical nigredo phase correlates with the departure stage in the hero’s myth. Maceration of the ego stance is the primary necessity and similar symbols are attendant, threshold crossing, darkness, engulfment, et. Joseph Campbell (1973) says the crossing the threshold is akin to “a form of self-annihilation” (p. 91). Just as alchemical processes serve as a passage from the outer world to the inner, the mythic descent and departure is a journey inward.

During the Romantic era, the myth of Satan experienced a revisioning, becoming as Peter Schock (1993) says the, “charismatic fallen angel . . . an ideological vehicle” (p. 443) opposed to tyranny. Using this interpretation, Satan becomes a hero in opposition to a despot and his fall from heaven and into the depths of hell is a nigredo phase. Homer Sprague envisioned Hell, in Milton’s cosmography, as an area within the realm of Chaos and Night (1915, p. 76), the nigredo is then within the prima materia, and vice versa in the romanticized Satanic hero’s myth. Blake (1988) says of the fires of hell, which look like fire and torment from the outside, was instead “the enjoyments of Genius” (p. 38) and from this nigredo, Satan gleaned necessary proverbial wisdoms for his calling.

Blake, W. (1988). The complete poetry and prose of William Blake. Toronto. Anchor Books.

Campbell, J. (1973). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton. Princeton University Press.

Jung, C. G. (1968). Religious ideas in alchemy (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). In H. Read et al. (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung: Vol. 12. Psychology and alchemy (2nd ed., pp. 225-472). Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1937) https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400850877.225

Jung, C. (1989). Memories Dreams Reflections. New York. Vintage Books.

Schock, P. A. (1993). The marriage of heaven and hell: Blake’s myth of Satan and its cultural matrix. ELH, 60(2), 441-470.

Warren, W. F. (1915). The universe as pictured in Milton’s paradise lost; an illustrated study for personal and class use. [New York, Cincinnati, The Abingdon press] [Web.] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://lccn.loc.gov/15026992.

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