Fuckin’ Birds!

I am not a morning person. I would much prefer to burn the midnight oil, huddled over my alchemical experiments or magical work, than to get up at the crack of dawn and work while still rubbing the sand out of my eyes. Some say that, “The early bird get the worm!” I tend to say that, “The early worm gets eaten by the bird!” Or wait, how about, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” I say, “Late to bed, late to rise allows a man to see his true allies.” Ok, so my poetry skills leave something to be desired, let’s move along!

A few weeks ago, my beautiful partner was up and chipper a bit early. She was talking about how beautiful the birds were, that they were singing and cawing. All I could say was, “Fuckin’ Birds!” That became my mantra for a few weeks. I blamed EVERYTHING on the birds! If my car didn’t start, “Fuckin’ Birds”. If I stubbed my toe, “Fuckin’ Birds!” This went on for a while, which is funny because my patron animal since I was a teenager has been the Phoenix. Well, I thought it sounded like a great time to post about the different Birds found in alchemical symbolism, and see what they have to say to us!

There are quite a few birds found, among the many animals used as symbols in alchemy. The birds of alchemy typically consist of the Black Crow, White Swan, Peacock, Pelican, and the Phoenix. Each of these are indicitive of various stages of alchemy as one progresses through the work.  The first question that comes to mind is, why use birds? Birds fly through the air, making Air a significant element when referencing birds. Air is the reconciler between the earth and the heavens. Unlike man, who is tethered to the ground (all right, except for planes…fucking planes), birds may move between the two worlds of the ground, terra firma, and the air. Ancient alchemists recognized this as a pattern of a soul going through a process of enlightenment, seeking the heavens as we grow our wings.

Let’s look at the order in which the birds typically appear through the alchemical processes and phases (as listed above): 1. The Black Crow; 2. The White Swan; 3. The Peacock; 4. The Pelican; 5. The Phoenix. Each of these birds corresponds to an experience of enlightenment, of growth, of discovering our own spiritual nature and our link with the divine.

 

 

The Black Crow symbolizes that great beginning, a time when the work is just beginning, the initial stages at which point the alchemist must understand his rank…the lowest of the low, unenlightened, with no knowledge of the tasks which lie ahead. Often used as a symbol of Nigredo, it represents the blackening, the breakdown, the understanding that we really don’t know how much we don’t know! It can represent death, as in the dying of an old method of thinking, discarding the old to obtain the new. Just as a snake sheds it’s skin so that the new skin can be revealed, it is a shedding of the former belief systems, practices and methods.

Next is the White Swan, often representing the Phase of Albedo. A new path now lies ahead, a path which can be seen, and which the alchemist has likely set foot upon. However, he is still a beginner. Just as Albedo is often mistaken for true enlightenment, so too is the alchemist at this phase susceptible to self-deception, that he knows more than he really does, that he is more experienced than he really is. This is a very delicate time and the chance to demonstrate humility and respect can be of great value in this phase. Being humble, and realizing that though a plan is in place, and processes set into motion, he is yet still a beginner. Showing respect for teachers, for the knowledge, for the vast countenance that exists that he has not yet touched is of great importance. Otherwise, the ego balloons, and the alchemist begins to believe that he is greater than he really is.

Ah, the beautiful peacock! Whereas the previous two birds were black and white, with the Peacock we enter a world of many colors! Typically part of the phase of Citrinitas, marking the putrefaction of the material, it marks a turning point in the journey, that while the alchemist has hit bottom an began to work his way up, here we have some true growth and change. Those habits and changes which had been conscious choice, and something that had to be focused on, now ha
s become unconscious and has began to be integrated into the alchemist as part of his nature. The outer change is nearing completion, and the inner change is now beginning in earnest.

 

 

The Pelican now shows a level of spiritual maturity, that has moved beyond the Peacock. Still in Citrinitas, he shows the growth of the new substance out of the breakdown of the putrefaction. Whereas the Peacock shows an outward beauty, the Pelican demonstrates it’s inward beauty. The Pelican is often shown piercing its own breast with its beak and nourishing its young with its own blood. This demonstrates the true nature of sacrifice for others, of giving up part of the ego and giving of the lifeblood to another. Most paths of spiritual development embrace some form of self transformation, change and sacrifice. Often something worldly is sacrificed to give to the spiritual self or world. The Peacock, giving up its colors in order to feed the young that depend upon it. These changes are often deeply painful, as change often is, and will test the resolve of the alchemist. This allows the spiritual ‘true’ self  of the alchemist to manifest, and to put forth its new spiritual aura.

The Phoenix is the completion of the process of enlightenment. The Phoenix builds its nest, which at the same time is its funeral pyre, and then setting it alight cremates himself. But he is not gone, but rather rises anew from the ashes, and is thus transformed. Representative of the phase of Rubedo, here we have captured the alchemists experience of enlightenment. He has integrated his being so much, that he is no longer dependent upon his physical body as a foundation for who he really is. He now stands upon the pinnacle of the spiritual. He has attained the Philosopher’s Stone, the Spiritual core of his being.

So, there we have it. The Birds of Alchemy, depicting the process of the development of the soul of the Alchemist throughout the various Phases of Alchemy. Each one is emblematic of one of these phases, and while what they represent is not set in stone, there is a definite progression of the soul from one phase to the next. So, as I myself briefly reflect on my own alchemical journey of my soul, and see the changes that I have been through, some by my own choice and some not, it reinforces to me the impetus that I had for this post.

Fuckin’ Birds.

Mutatio per Solve et Coagula!

Sean-Frater MTO

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1 comment on “Fuckin’ Birds!”

  1. Soror MIMM Reply

    Excellent post Frater MTO! I think the metaphysical and pagan communities tend to place undue emphasis on what some would consider their spirit animal or totem without taking the time to learn or understand their natures; the magic and power which lies in their images and actions, and even their names. Thank you for shedding some light on this – it’s all too important in alchemy!

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