We start off the chapter on yellow with a brief mention
that many alchemists did not include the stage of yellow,
especially in the later years of alchemy’s heyday,
but moved directly from white to red.
Hillman, who was himself trained as a Jungian analyst,
suggests that Jung included the yellow because he was fond of the fourfold nature of things,
seeing the quaternity as a suggestion of wholeness.’
I wondered why I had not come across James Hillman’s Psychological Alchemy until I went looking on Amazon and found that they start at $250 for a used copy- ouch! Regardless, this statement about skipping the yellow phase was one of those titrational statements that suddenly brought a huge amount of information into focus for me. Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival that has become part of my piece on the Fisher King’s Wife has kept showing its relevance and the Jungians do read it as an alchemical quest. I’ve been avoiding that jungle of the Jungian analysis because, for me, the great failing of Jungian psychology is that it leaps from the peuer or youth to the senex or faustian old man, without any steps between. Stasis is even more extreme for women. While I can understand Jung focusing on his own personal anima, as a school of psychology that focus puts women in the position of mirrors for men’s animas and not much else Western adults are left with no initiatory path to maturity, tangling them up into incestuous father/daughter and mother/son sexual relationships, and generally making a mess of things.
Now, Wolfram says that the act that destroyed the Round Table was when Parzival was honored for murdering the Red Knight and taking his horse, weapons and armor when he had not earned them. Wolfram also informs us that Parzival does not know how to ride, that he cannot control the Red Horse as it takes him where it will. If what Wolfram means is that Parzival went directly to red, then his story is both a cautionary tale about the consequences of excluding the yellow phase and a guide for those willing to set out on such a journey. On the personal level, all beginning riders know the feeling of being at the mercy of a large and powerful animal, but equestrians are willing to put in infinite hours and effort for those transcendent Rubedo moments when horse and rider are one. Horses teach relationship and we are in desperate need of the yellow phase in conscious adult relationships.
It is that yellow phase of the Pale Horse that matures our own inner beings while we serve the greater community as well. In terms of social commentary, like the virginal Parzival, the celibate Cardinals of the Catholic Church put on their red robes although they have spent their lives denying their physical passions and avoiding intimate relationships. As the sick underbelly of the Catholic Church is exposed, it looks like Wolfram was telling us that men who claim to be spiritual leaders without learning how transmute their sexual energies are not only fooling themselves but doing great harm to their communities. His Quest for the Holy Grail is then truly the quest to be a mature man in productive relationships with partner and community that temper youthful idealism into pragmatic creativity.
Even better, I found that just as Wolfram claimed, Parzival’s journey really is still written in the stars and the story may be as old as the Ice Age. Humans were practicing alchemy some 40,000 years ago, using fire to change the colors of the pigments they used to paint the cave walls. While we like to reduce alchemy to an esoteric and psychological practice, I suspect that its roots are much more pragmatic.
Stories are how information is passed through the generations in oral tradition. And the phases of alchemy not only reflect the transformation of pigment, they offer a means to track equine genetics that dictate coat colour.
Nigredo is impure and black is a dominant gene in horses. It may take several generations to understand what recessive genes a black horse may be carrying.
Albedo is cleansing, the washing away of impurities and while there are several different genes that can result in a white horse, most of them result in deathly birth defects.
Citrinitas is the yellow phase, mysterious and overlooked by later alchemists, but in horses the dilution genes that result in a golden coat color are recessive and affect black and red coats differently.
Rubedo is the fourth and final stage, symbolizing success. And the red gene in horses is recessive, so a red horse will breed true.