Hogwarts and the Black Madonna

The Four Houses. 

Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. For anyone who doesn’t know, these are the four houses that children are sorted into at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the wizarding school that Harry Potter attends in J. K. Rowling’s fantasy novel series. The four houses each embody certain character traits: Gryffindor for the brave at heart; Hufflepuff for the just and loyal; Ravenclaw for those of wit and learning; and Slytherin for the cunning who lead. The Harry Potter series taps into these innate universal archetypes in a big way, particularly those archetypes that are present in Christian symbolism. I could talk at length on this, so I’ll just give one example for now. Harry Potter is a magical orphan, adopted by lesser parents. Superman (who I’ve spoken about before) is the same, an orphan boy adopted by lesser parents, and Jesus is the same, an orphan boy adopted by lesser parents.  And the reason this archetypical ideal chimes with us so innately is that to some extent we all have that sense, that we have our ‘real’ parents, whether they were good or bad parents, who fell short, and then there is some ideal beyond, like nature or the sacred or the unknown, which are our true parents. We were physically born of our mother, but in a more primal sense we were brought forth out of the earth, or out of this cosmic order. So in the same way certain architypes, certain characteristics, are embodied within in each of the four houses.

The Four Elements.

It’s very interesting to note how much the traits of these houses are paralleled within depth-psychology personality types, as you find them on personality tests, most notably Myers-Briggs. As each of us could be sorted into one of these four houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin, so too, each of us has primary personality types: Thinking, Feeling, Sensation, and Intuition. Four is the magic number it seems. And where else do we find the number four? The four noble truths of Buddhism, or tying back to my alchemy address, the four elements of alchemy: fire, air, earth, and water. And when it comes to Harry Potter these all correspond very closely. House of Gryffindor: personality type ‘intuition’, element fire. Harry Potter, who is of the house of Gryffindor, in his time of trial is brought the sword of Gryffindor by the phoenix which rises from the fire. House of Hufflepuff: element earth, personality type ‘sensation’, house animal a badger. House of Slytherin: element water, personally type ‘Feeling’, house animal a serpent. And on and on it goes. J. K. Rowling is constantly playing with these four archetypes. The fact that Harry Potter draws so heavily upon such archetypes seems to me a very good reason for the books series’ immense success. They’re not just nice stories, they chime with some innate human truths. Four is the magic number.

Rublev's Icon of the Trinity

The book series is tapping into archetypes in a big way, particularly those archetypes that are present in Christian symbolism. In Orthodox Christianity however, the magic number is not four, it’s three. Reality is seen through a trifold prism. The idea then is this - primal reality consists of certain stories, stories called archetypes, stories that we can’t help enacting in the world. The biblical tradition chimes with us so intuitively because it reflects these inborn archetypal narratives. Perhaps the biblical narrative reflects these primal archetypes better than anything else, hence its enduring significance. The Bible reflects something of the universal language (as an aside, when we talk about the symbolic significance of three in the Bible, you don’t need to assume that that entails full blown trinitarian theology. Mathew 28 v. 18 reads, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, And of the Holy Spirit.” So, tri-fold-ness is part of the Biblical tradition. It’s the coequal nature of Jesus and God the Father which is not. That is all later theological extrapolation). So, if four is archetypally speaking such an important number, we may well ask, why three, what happened to the fourth? And what is the fourth for that matter? It’s surprising how well this works. Let’s take the four primal elements: Fire, Earth, Air, and Water, and think how they intuitively line up with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Start with the easy one: Holy Spirit obviously corresponds with Air. Air, wind, breath, dove, etc.: Holy Spirit. God the Father, refining fire of the Lord, we can line up with the element fire. And Jesus, whose first miracle was water into wine, who walked on water, who’s followers identify themselves with a fish, is aligned with the element Water. This leaves Earth – the forgotten element of Christian symbolism.

And what does Earth represent? The fertile ground beneath our feet. The foundation of life. The Earth which nourishes and shelters. The earth which is the womb from which all things spring. The divine feminine, which is often coupled with a strong sense of mystery, the dark earth which conceals the unknown. One can attempt to shoehorn the feminine into the Trinitarian model. Many have tried to varying degrees of success. Historically speaking though, it has certainly been lacking. Interestingly the Catholic tradition has attempted to redress this lack through the figure of Mary: note that this move was not a conscious act. There was never a group of theologians in the Middle Ages that sat around and said to one another, ‘you know Catholic theology is really lacking the divine feminine. We should promote some Mary devotion’. No, it arose as an intuitive response from worshippers. So, in this way, Mary can be understood as the fourth member of the Trinity.

The Pieta by Michelangelo.

Mary’s significance has grown and developed a great deal beyond the Biblical narrative. In the Bible Mary is surprisingly absent. Outside of the birth narratives which we read and think about during Christmas, she appears very little. She’s mentioned in passing in the first Chapter of Acts, in which we’re told she was with the other disciples just before Pentecost. And in Matthew when Mary and Jesus’ brothers come to speak to Jesus, and Jesus responds in his unflattering way, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’. And finally there are a couple of mentions in John, and John is considered the most historically dubious of the Gospels. So, John puts Mary at the Wedding of Cana, the other three don’t mention the wedding. And John puts Mary at the crucifixion, the other three don’t. However, Mary is very much present in the Christian imagination. Take for example the crucifixion. The historicity of her presence there is doubtful, but she is often portrayed as present in paintings. Or take the famous statue by Michelangelo – Mary cradling her crucified son. Likewise, in film, Jesus’ mother Mary is often given a more significant role, always on the periphery of Jesus’ ministry. Even though, again, this is not in the Bible. Also, the theological significance of Mary has been greatly amplified. In Luke we get the Song of Mary, the Magnificat, “For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden: For behold, from henceforth: all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath magnified me: and holy is his Name.” These two lines, only present in the Gospel of Luke, have had a monumental effect. Essentially all Mariology has been justified on the strength of these two lines. So, how has Marian theology developed?

Mother of God icon by Jan Isham.

As the theology of Jesus’ divinity takes shape, Mary’s status needs to change. Affirming Jesus as God becomes the normative Christian belief, and as such Mary, by extension, becomes not just the mother of Jesus, but in some sense the Mother of God. Also, the normative Christian belief was that if Jesus was God, he must have been without sin. As you probably know, from the original sin onwards, taint was passed down generation to generation, which is of course a horrid and weird belief. But nevertheless, that is what people thought. As Jesus was without sin, or even without the taint of original sin, Mary too must have been without sin. And so, the theology developed that she too was sinless. In Genesis it says that the wages for sin is death. But if Mary was also without sin, it has to follow that she cannot die by natural means, and so, the idea was developed that Mary did not die, but rather in the end, she (like Jesus) was taken up into the heavens. This is known as the Assumption of Mary. Although this idea goes back to the 6th Century, it only became Roman Catholic dogma in the 1950s. This move in the 1950s has been seen as the ultimate confirmation of Mary’s divine status. In a way, the fact that the Church has elevated the divine feminine in Mary is more important than the convoluted way that it got there. Unconscious as the Church was to responding to this lack inherent within the Godhead.

 Einsiedeln, Switzerland's mysterious Black Madonna

Einsiedeln, Switzerland's mysterious Black Madonna

And so, all this brings me to the Black Madonna on your order of service. I’m sure you have seen examples of this before. As Christianity takes root within different cultures and amongst different races, there is almost always a process which takes place, in which the imagery of Jesus and Mary are adapted to reflect the ethnicity of those who are worshipping them. So, whereas in our western culture we are most familiar with the fair skinned, and young-looking Mary in blue, in India, she is depicted as an Indian, in China as Chinese, and in the Middle East as Middle Eastern, as so on. And so, one would imagine that the Black Madonna arose as an expression of African Christianity. Certainly subsequently there have been many such African Christian artistic interpretations of the Madonna and Jesus. The original figure however was actually European. Swiss, to be specific. There is a small church near Zurich which contains a black Madonna from the 10th or 9th Century, which birthed a whole Black Madonna tradition across Medieval Europe. Of course, there was no black population in these places in Medieval times praying at these alters, these were white Europeans praying to a Black Madonna. The theory for how this came to be was simply due to intense exposure to candle smoke, which over time caused the Madonna statue’s skin to blacken. This was then reproduced and copied in its blackened state in other statues and icons across Europe. But again, I don’t think it matters so much how the Church got to that; just the mere fact that there were medieval white peasants venerating a Black Madonna I think is pretty phenomenal in itself. It doesn’t seem adequate to call this an historical accident. As stated, the phenomenon seems to arise from a lack within the normative religious expression of the day.

The Black Madonna encapsulates that fourth and absent dimension of the God-head. Not simply feminine, but of the earth. Through her we plumb the depths of our being and confront the powers of primal transformation, resulting in vital and creative growth. The presence of the Black Madonna fulfils a need within the collective unconscious. Her presence informs us that we must fully embrace the darkness of the unpredictable and unknown. That through these pilgrimages and journeys of the unknown, we emerge into new life. As such, an aspect of the divine is brought to light, and in this illuminating of one aspect of the divine that is rarely given expression, we grow in our appreciation of the depths of the sacred within ourselves. We draw a step closer towards that spiritual holistic wholeness that we seek.


Rev. Phillip Hewett: A Personal Memorial


As I began to think about what I might say during this address, I went back into my archive to see when in the past I had mentioned Phillip Hewett. I found an address I gave nearly two and half years ago on ‘David & Goliath.’ It was the third or fourth address I gave here, in which I talked about some problems with postmodernism, and I was critical of a model of Unitarianism which Hewett proposed back in the 50s. The model was a Venn Diagram, of three overlapping circles. Hewett argues that Unitarianism pulls, as it were, in three directions: towards Christianity, towards humanism, and towards seeing the essential value in other religious traditions (which he terms Universalism). His argument was that we must hold that tension and stay within the middle space, and not allow any of these forces to dominate the conversation. My concern with that approach was that by elevating this neutral centre ground you in effect inadvertently create a community which is intolerant towards people who want to actually affirm a particular position. You create an ideal of nothingness, which evades all commitment. I suggested that a far better approach was not trying to conform or mould yourself into some pluralistic wishy-washy ideal, but rather, to be authentically present to the spiritual life as we find it, or inherit it, affirming a commitment to self-integrity in the spiritual life we lead in each present moment. Though of course, what I was doing in that address was not having a dialogue with Phillip Hewett, but rather critiquing something he wrote over sixty years ago, something he wrote when the world showed up very differently, and this Unitarian movement showed up very differently.He was obviously responding to problems as he perceived them then, as I am responding to problems as I perceive them now. So, to that end I made a good straw man of him. Because one must speak, one must have an opinion, one must come down one way or another, and by doing that, by playing your cards upon the table, we mask the true depth of ourselves. As Walt Whitman said, ‘I contain multitudes’. What we outwardly claim to revile, for example, we at different times and in different worlds may well manifest what we claim to stand against. We are always far more than meets the eye. Within Unitarianism we question. We question things as they stand, things as they were, and the direction in which we move.

Hewett and I

Back in January, in the Inquirer, Phillip Hewett had a short article published. It was to mark his 75th year as a Unitarian. He said he, like many of his peers, felt himself turning away from the normative Christianity he grew up under – the faith of his parents. But unlike his peers, he was drawn towards finding an alternative. He read through reference books and came upon Unitarianism. I find that interesting, as I too read about Unitarianism before I experienced it first-hand. He enquired after the closest Unitarian minister. This was in 1942, during the Second World War, when Phillip was 17 years old. He sat down to talk with this minister. After an hour of conversation Phillip asked how he could become a Unitarian, and the response came, ‘after listening to you, I can tell you, you already are a Unitarian’. The article goes on to highlight an enduring view Phillip had come to after all these years (a view which strikes me as wholly at odds with the 1950s Hewett I argued against in that address); he states that at the centre of faith must lie particular persons, stories, poems, and/or places. That we must gather around a flowing stream, the roots of which flow from Christianity. He decried where America had failed to do that, where after 1961 it, in effect, jettisoned its past. He puts front and centre the person of Jesus, and how we respond to the person of Jesus. He says this question of how we respond to Jesus is the most important question within Unitarianism. This attests to something quite remarkable in Unitarianism. That in all our musings and exploration, in this community we are first and foremost for loving acceptance, and as such, in all our ambles through ideas, all our trying on of perspectives, in all the changes we go through, and should go through, we remain at home within this faith. We remain welcome. Phillip Hewett was certainly an example of that – a Unitarian who had traversed a lot of intellectual space in terms of how he viewed himself, this world, and this movement. And yet a Unitarian to the core.

Harris Manchester College, Oxford

I met Phillip just twice. Training for ministry at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, as he did, and I did, he was keen to return for old student association days. I met him at that event two years ago, and then again last year. As I’m sure that any of you who met him know, he was a very warm and kind person, full of a joy for life. He was keen to sit down with me and talk about Ipswich, and the direction of Unitarianism. He gave me copy of his book, ‘The Unitarian Way’ which he saw as his final piece of advice to this movement of ours. In this religious tradition with no creed and no hierarchy, it is sometimes hard to see what it is that binds Unitarians together. And then in 20 chapters he talks about different threads which weave through our tradition. In one chapter, ‘Wider Horizons’, he addresses something of the problem I highlighted: Unitarianism can all too easily become the religion which doesn’t believe certain things. We can easily become a religion which defines ourselves in opposition to mainstream Christianity in particular. Confronted with some of the exclusive claims within mainstream Christianity, we overreact, and deny far more than we affirm. He talks for example about the word ‘Christ’. A Unitarian cannot believe in ‘Christ’, can they, believing the term to point us towards the supernatural dimension of Jesus and the exclusive claims of Christianity, about salvation only being through him, etc.? But to make such a move is to misunderstand and misrepresent how the term ‘Christ’ has been understood in liberal Christian scholarship, pointing as it does not to exclusivity but rather to the conscious embodiment of the universal spiritual nature: a path open to us all. This means there is a higher consciousness at play in Jesus, which finds poetic expression in the sayings of Jesus, like, ‘I and the Father are one’, or ‘I am the way and the truth’... And so, we are tripped up by vocabulary.

We may in this space, in this building, on this cold morning, repeat Jesus’s words that ‘no one can come to the father except through me’, but we will understand such statements as coming through Christ-consciousness reaching for some poetic expression, for words beyond what our vocabulary can capture. But if it’s just kept as an amorphic ideal, a concept in space, it’s very difficult to grab on to. But personified in an individual, in a story, we can see it, and we can get it. And so, Jesus remains central. To quote Hewett quoting Emerson, ‘The Universal does not attract us until housed in an individual.’ Then we get it, when we can see it being lived out. And yet even then, when it comes to Jesus, as the chapter title suggests (a ‘wider horizon’), there remains ever present in Unitarianism an openness and receptivity to recognising ‘the way’ as it manifests in other traditions and people. Ultimately then I don’t think it's overstating it - Phillip Hewett’s love of this movement is what directed his life’s work – he ultimately wanted Unitarianism to succeed, and it came down for him to our efforts to manifest together the sort of community we want to see in this world. Navigating that difficult path between individual and shared beliefs; it is a tension. There is something very shared at play here. Phillip Hewett talks a lot about that in his book, and yet to put that unity into words seems to cause problems, for obvious reasons. A spirit of consensus lies beneath a bed of contradictions and paradoxes. A bond of love, of hope, shared experiences and ideals. Nevertheless these unite us together as Unitarians. But community lived out needs to be more than shared beliefs, but rather a shared way of life, or indeed ‘The Way’. Through shared memories, sentiments, and aspirations we are bound together into one common life. As Philip points out, the diversity of outlook causes a real problem within communities, but it need not. If openness to one another is a central expression of our community, we find that oneness together which is beyond categorisation. To quote Philip, ‘an exclusive, rigid, totalitarian person cannot claim minority rights in an open, free, inclusive organisation. The principles of inclusiveness automatically excludes such a person’s exclusiveness’. Somehow a meta-expression of us as a whole family does and can find form and shape. One people worshipping a shared sense of the sacred. This is the kind of loving, generous Unitarian community Phillip wanted to see take shape. It was a privilege to have met him, and I hope we here can carry on and manifest this vision amongst us. Go well brother.


Alchemy of the Soul

Part 1

'The Alchemist' by Joseph Wright

I’ll begin this morning by defining what Alchemy is. Alchemy was the ancient practice of combining matter, physical stuff, together, in such a way that you produce something with supernatural power. It was the art of transformation. You can think of the caterpillar – it goes into its cocoon, and therein undergoes a complete transformation. It does not merely modify, or gain extra components, but its whole form breaks down and is reconstituted into the butterfly. So in Alchemy the substances used are broken down into a state of chaos, from which a miraculous physical substance emerges which can produce magical results. Sometimes these magical results in alchemical books are defined, and sometimes, probably most of the time, it is left far more elusive. When they are defined, that’s where we get the famous examples like the philosopher’s stone, capable of turning any ‘base metal’ into a so called ‘noble metal’, such as gold. Or, the elixir of life, or elixir of immortality, which grants eternal life or eternal youth.

'An Alchemist' by Jacob Toorenvliet

In my short story, I painted a picture of an old man who had devoted his life to this task, trying to evoke the tragic nature of this pursuit. Countless decades devoted to an art with an impossible end. The historical figure who comes to mind is the proto-Unitarian, Isaac Newton. Yes, he laid the foundation of modern physics, and invented calculous. Yes, he proved categorically that the planets revolved around the sun. Yes, he discovered the laws of motion and gravity. But to him these were all side projects. He was first and foremost an alchemist – the most famous alchemist to ever live. It's an odd thing to reconcile, that the greatest scientist ever would devote most of his energy to a pseudoscientific art. We may be baffled today, but those around him then in 17th Century who knew he toiled at this illegal art were equally baffled. I gave you that quote on your order of service from Humphrey Newton (of no relation), his lab assistant, who said, “What his aim might be, I was not able to penetrate into, but his pains, his diligence at these times, made me think he aimed at something beyond the reach of human art and industry.” Newton believed that in an ancient Edenic past, humanity knew great truths about nature and the universe. Whereas today, the normative belief is that the height of human knowledge and potential is before us, in some future time, it was once the normative belief that the height of human knowledge and potential was behind us, in a spiritually heightened golden age, and that though direct knowledge of this ancient wisdom had been lost to us, it was encoded in ancient religious texts and myths. And so, if our ancient ancestors possessed the great truths of alchemy, Newton believed he could decode the Greek myths, for example, to recover such ancient recipes. And as strange as that sounds, this pursuit is what occupied the majority of Newton’s time.

 Isaac Newton (1643 - 1727)

Isaac Newton (1643 - 1727)

One approach when thinking about Alchemy, then, would be to dismiss it as the primitive superstitions of our ancestors, and I am not unsympathetic to that outlook. The alternative however, would be to understand this art as pointing towards something more foundational, a truth about human spirituality. A truth which bubbles away under a bed of contradictions and errors.

Part 2

We as human beings have a tendency towards infusing matter (things) with subjective significance. So, it’s not just wood, it’s a chair. It’s not just a chair, it’s my grandmother’s chair, and if you spill wine on I will be deeply hurt. It’s not just metal. It’s a ring. It’s my ring. It’s the ring that signifies I am married to this person, and marriage entails: long list of cultural norms… There’s a tendency then for human beings to take the deepest longing of ourselves and in some way project them out onto the world around us. So, when we think about alchemy you can imagine a process in which alchemy was once an art of the interior self, the transformation of the self, which in time became an art of transforming matter. This was an insight of psychoanalyst Carl Jung. So, you have practitioners, who we can call alchemists, but they’re not manipulating matter, or experimenting with matter, or seeking to transform matter, rather they are seeking to transform the self. Or transform their souls. So, such people believed that spiritual transformation was possible. Think back to the caterpillar. Not minor alteration, but radical transformation. And what would be produced, what would emerge, would be a new type of human being. Like the supernatural matter from the alchemist’s bench, one would unlock the supernatural potential within the human soul. And then as Christianity became dominant in the western world in the second, third, fourth centuries, these mystery movements, schools of thought concerned with unlocking the mysterious potential of the self, were persecuted or suppressed. And so, individuals within such movements changed into what we understand today as alchemists. Manipulators of physical matter. Because to the powerful, kings and rulers, for them to have sects of people practicing interior transformation (such as the mystery cults, the gnostic, hermetic orders and the like), such groups are potentially threatening. They could destabilise the status quo, but having an alchemist in the castle trying to make you gold - that is less problematic.

 Alchemical symbol for the philosopher's stone.

Alchemical symbol for the philosopher's stone.

So, Carl Jung, who I have spoken about a lot before - the Swiss-born psychoanalyst, who along with Freud developed the ‘talking cure’ and came up with idea of the collective unconscious - he was concerned with dreams, and he developed the archetypes theory, those stories that we all can’t help enacting into the world. He thought of himself in this primal sense as an alchemist, concerned as he was with radical transformation of the self. Alchemy is a very good analogy for that process that we all go through in our lives. Human souls have the capacity to transform, and they do so by following a pattern which is very closely echoed in what happens upon the Alchemist’s bench.

Carl Jung

So, what does that look like? It begins with a recognition that spiritually, we want to grow. We want our consciences to grow and expand. The other drive within us is the ‘pleasure principle’, which is also true. We seek our own pleasure and gratification. But that alone is not enough. If we only seek our own pleasure we’re ultimately left feeling hollow. That’s why spiritual paths which hinge upon a version of ‘follow your bliss’ are ultimately vacuous. You know, Californian spirituality. Fluffy feel good spirituality. We recognise then that interior transformation is desirable. But more than that, this drive for spiritual transformation is deeply embedded within who we are. Because, and there’s a problem here, what most people often mean when they talk about wanting more spiritual growth is that they want to have more of what they already have. Or they want what they already are to be reflected back at them, in order that they can feel good about themselves. Spiritual growth for the fool is growth into a bigger fool. Whereas real spiritual transformation happens over the alchemist’s flame; it is uncomfortable, traumatic perhaps, painful perhaps, it happens when we are ill at ease. Remember, I said that upon the Alchemist’s bench the raw matter, the components of our soul, are broken down into a chaotic state, a chaotic state of the soul. A Dark Night of the Soul.


There’s an old Alchemist dictum which Jung was very fond of. It’s in Latin so I’m definitely going to butcher this pronunciation, but it went “In sterquiliniis invenitur”, which literally translates as, ‘In crap it will be found.’ And this is a hard truth to accept, that that which we most need to grow spiritually is found where we least want to look. Or, you learn, or grow spiritually, through voluntary contact with that which frightens or disgusts us. So obviously that cannot be a normative state of affairs. We can’t be having a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ every day, but periodically allowing our consciousness to submerge into chaos is a necessary component of spiritual development. We have to choose to put ourselves over the Alchemist’s flame. And this is known to us, that in trying times, we are either consumed by the fire, which is obviously a real possibility, or we emerge more refined, and more whole than we were before. You endure the conflict, the paradox, the battle, and you emerge more complete, in whom the opposites are reconciled. You confront in yourself the horror, the abuse, the trauma, the moment upon which everything turned, the sadness, the loss, and you grow. The conflicting components within us, the substances within the flask upon the alchemist’s bench, are harmonised into a single unity, and we are made whole. And so, those episodes in our own life which were most painful, can, if reconciled within us, be the very episodes that build us into the more complete individuals we are becoming.



In closing then, I’m going to explain why I chose the wrath-filled reading from Ezekiel that we started with, that Robert read out for us. The most obvious reason is that it talks about metals being purified, the smelting fires of the Lord refining and moulding us, which is not unlike the Alchemist’s flame which I’ve been speaking about. My primary motivation though was the wrath of God itself. In the Old Testament, the divine is obviously personified in the God of Israel, and we know what the characteristics of this God are; he is described in the Bible as Love, Peace, Perfection, Hope, Gentleness, Truth, etc etc. But also, as Anger, Wrath, Justice, Judging, Divine Fury. And it is our liberal religious impulse of course to minimise the judgy God, and maximise the loving God. The peaceable God. The gentle God. And this whole address about the alchemy of the soul shows us why it may not be that simple. It’s a problematic conflict. A problematic paradox. We wouldn’t want to say that the negative episodes of our life are of God’s making. If our prospects take a sudden turn for the worse, or a loved one dies, or whatever negative thing befalls us, we wouldn’t want to think of that as being of God. But if, in turn, it is these calamities which cause an edification of the soul, then perhaps it is, with the benefit of hindsight, reasonable to see that as God’s doing. It seems both appropriate and inappropriate to say as much. You can’t tell someone that they should view a calamity as spiritually beneficial. In the rawness of the experience such a sentiment is merely callous, though perhaps in time they themselves will see it as such. It does make some sense of God’s wrath in the Bible if you interpret said negative event as the work of God, indeed the wrath of God. And if that wrath purifies our souls, and moves us towards spiritual maturity, then it is of benefit, no? And how can we not say that that which edifies us spiritually is not of God?

In the crap it will be found. And so, within the flame of the Alchemist, we bubble into an impure broth. We have our dark nights of the soul, but in time we transform into a precious substance. A precious soul comes, is brought forth. We are subject to the wrath of God, the calamities of this world, and in turn, we are moulded into something still greater. And so, the drive within us towards spiritual depth is satisfied a little more. We move a step closer within our interior world to that pearl of great price, that philosophers stone, that elixir of immortality.