Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Orphan Part II

When the often tormented Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was in Paris, Picasso taught her a song, which she often sang for her lover and two-time husband, the painter  Diego Rivera, or for friends. It's called "El Huerfano" (The Orphan). The song portrays Frida's sense of loneliness, alienation, and despair. Her torment reaches deep into her soul, creating a void which was never healed and never filled. Her vivid yet, tormented paintings are perhaps her creative genius response to this black hole in her soul.

On a stone tablet at Bollingen (that I mentioned in the first post), Jung carved the following quotations from alchemical texts, although he actually writes that he "let the stone itself speak, as it were, in a Latin inscription:

I am an orphan, alone; nevertheless I am found everywhere. I am one, but opposed to myself. I am youth and old man at one and the same time. I have known neither father nor mother, because I have had to be fetched out of the deep like a fish, or fell like a white stone from heaven. In woods and mountains I roam, but I am hidden in the innermost soul of man. I am mortal for everyone, yet I am not touched by the cycles of aeons (p. 277 MDR).
The acquisition of the stone itself is an interesting and curious story. Jung had ordered, with specific measurements, stones from a local quarry to build a wall that was to enclose the garden by the Tower. When the stones arrived, the cornerstone was all wrong-it was a much larger square block than the triangular stone requested-and it was about to be returned but when Jung saw the stone, he knew it belonged to him, and he made a carved monument out of it to express what the Tower meant to him.

Initially the stone was to him the lapis, the Philosopher's Stone (that is, an image of the Self), the substantive symbol that marks paradoxically both the beginning and goal of the work on alchemy, that which is despised and rejected, yet valued above all things by the wise. According to some alchemical traditions (Jung, 1970b), this lapis is called "the orphan" both  on account of its uniqueness-"it was never seen elsewhere"--and because the "orphan" was the name of a precious stone or gem...and sometimes shone in the night, "but nowadays it does not shine (any more) in the darkness".  Perhaps the stone brings distant echoes of Orpheus' creative realm and Dionysus's underworld mysteries, no longer clearly heard.

There is also a reference to the homeless orphan who is slain at the beginning of the work for the purpose of transformation (post on alchemy to come). Other associative images elucidated by Jung are "widow", "son of the widow," and "dropsical or paralyzed woman", images of parting, sorrow, and separation, both literal and symbolic, and a kind of ruthless rootedness to the spot, required for realizing the sources of support when it appears we have none.

We might say that the cornerstone of our uniqueness and our fate is that which tends to be despised and rejected, either by ourselves or our culture. Or, the realization of our being depends on precisely that which we might overlook, the thing that looks all wrong, that doesn't, as it were, measure up, or feel at home, the part that refuses to be domesticated.

The experience of being abandoned, of feeling ourselves lost, bereft, belonging to no one-not even to ourselves, to fall into that place where nothing makes sense, and everything we thought we could depend on has disintegrated or disappeared-be it person or belief system or collective institution, is that necessary landscape that situates our fate and our destiny, not as the son or daughter of particular parents in a particular historical or cultural context, but not as that creature, both human and divine, yet neither mortal nor immortal-the orphan-has chose incarnation here, in this body, in response to the Call, the call being creations's longing to fulfill its own mystery-unknown even perhaps to itself, unknown to myself.

Until we become traitors to the self that we know, until we are betrayed by all that is familiar, we do not come across this destiny of ours. Transformation brings us to this moment of betrayal. It brings us to this moment of being able to say no to the person we thought we were, to the idea of ourselves rather than who we actually are, to the provisional life we have led, to what we thought we were devoted to. The process of transformation brings us to our origins-not the historical or chronological origins of our most recent incarnational history but to the origins of soul in that dark landscape where the gem of our fate no longer shines in the night, where we know we are not living authentically, where we must let go of the illusion that our past is responsible for who we are, and where we are finally brought to our knees in complete surrender into our destiny...

The presence of the orphan assures us that those landscapes so easily overlooked and lost are the ones most valued by the soul, by the cosmos, by those vibrations that most call to us from the stars. Soul thrives on failure, failure of the ego's illusions about itself. Until we come to wobbly ground, until we are deprived of all the familiar sources of support, we will not find what truly sustains us. There comes a time when we must be willing to meet what we cannot be sure of, by anyone or anything, and still embrace it, wholly, while knowing that at any moment, it might betray us, or we might betray it. We have to be willing to fail, and fail completely, for the sake of soul...


  1. That was beautifully written and incredibly moving. Thank you.

  2. I appreciate your publishing this very informative passage. However, you should cite your source for the above extended quote, as it would be considered plagiarism and discolors your likely underlying good intentions. Astute readers will likely discard the passage and intent on the whole, rather than internalize any wisdom contained therein. Indeed, this is a nearly verbatim quotation of several passages from, "Eros and Chaos," by Veronica Goodchild. You can find the source here, among other places: