I find patience particularly difficult to practise when I know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that we are undergoing quarantine and lockdown in our homes as a result of what is probably the greatest crime ever perpetrated against humanity on a global scale – and that’s there’s not a darn thing you or I can do about it.
Anger comes easily in such circumstances, and justified anger too. And so I have at times raged on social media. Eventually, though, my fists grew red and sore from pounding on my locked cell door. I realised that no-one was listening – well, no-one who can release us from our torment anyway.
However, I am reminded that there is a theme common in many ancient myths – but it is particularly clear in the Celtic ones – of The Exalted Prisoner. There are many of these famous prisoners in the Welsh Mabinogion tales – Mabon, Pryderi, Goreu, Gwion – who are honoured forever in bardic rhyme and prose because their captivity benefitted the whole of humanity.
Many of you will know that I dig out the underlying alchemical allegories in mythic themes. I think most alchemists would agree that this exalted captivity represents the stage of fermentation or putrefaction that occurs in all growth in Nature. As humans, we are part of Nature too, and thus can also benefit from these limiting circumstances by exercising calm and patience, and then turning our consciousness inwards.
Under imprisonment, we have to do this in the end anyway, because there’s nowhere else for our mind to go.
Our consciousness has to move if we are not to die, and so when we rely too much on projecting the force of our consciousness outwards, and that force is stopped by the closed door of the ear of government, a lot of justifiable anger springs up from our survival instinct. This is because everything in Nature maintains its integrity by motion and movement. If the electrons stopped orbiting the nuclei in carbon atoms, and remained stationary, they – and we – would collapse. If the planets stopped orbiting the Sun, and remained stationary, our whole galaxy would implode.
So once we stop kicking outwards against and calm ourselves with the virtue of patience, we can then move the stream of our consciousness inwards, to benefit from this inner, spiritually transformative growth.
The emotional pain begins to dissolve once we see that the bonds constricting us are no more murderous than the silken casing of the cocoon of the chrysalis and, just like that shell, it can aid us in our spiritual metamorphosis. The captivity provides the walls of the cauldron, in this case helpfully providing, alchemically, the means for the insect to grow its wings so it can escape, and no butterfly can soar to freedom until that process is complete. Neither can it do much to aid the whole business, other than to wait…patiently.
All in Nature, including mammals, goes through this stage of imprisonment before birth. A human baby is kept captive in the womb for about nine months before it is developed enough to be released into this world. In myths, which are vehicles for alchemical metaphors, this stage of fermentation represents the penultimate one before the birth of the Child of the Philosopher, otherwise known as the Philosopher’s Stone.
(If you’d like to read more about how the mythological theme of The Exalted Prisoner is an allegory for an alchemical process that is found in myths, there’s a whole chapter on it in my book Stories in the Summerlands.)