Friday, 2 October 2015

Knuckers, Abraxas and Alchemical transformation

It's funny how a single post on the OBOD forum can start off an interesting & recursive investigation with a sprinkling of Awen and a dash of Alchemical salt. The start was with a post on Water Dragons, which referred to the Lambton Worm and Knuckers. Sussex being a famous place for Knuckers, and from an alchemical point of view, the more important Knucker Hole. The recursive element comes from a story about my childhood - I grew up in a semi-detached house where our neighbour was a single man in his 30's. Throughout the 70's he would have parties, quite loud parties but us kids could only really hear the bass beat coming through the walls. There was one bass beat in particular we loved but we never knew what the song was, or the album. Before the 80's he'd moved house so we never had a chance to ask what that music was. In the 80's we hit our teens and our own musical exploration began, then my sister's boyfriend brought an album round - Santana Abraxas - we heard it and instantly knew that we'd discovered that musical grail from our childhood.


The Water Dragon card from the Druid Animal Oracle mentions a myth where there is a little ditty about the Lambton Worm which I noticed has some similarities to the story where Thor goes fishing with the Jotun, Hymir for Jormungand who is one of Loki's children by Angrbodra and is the World Serpent or Ouroboros; the snake eating it's own tail which, some, philosophically relate to Self-reference.
Self-reference or recursion is an essential mathematical understanding for computing and being able to code a successfully recursive routine was part of my early computer coding training. So I am well versed in the mathematics of recursion if not the philosophy of recursion. Although I think my journey through the Ovate work has been pretty recursive.

Jung related Ouroboros, self-reference, to having archetypal significance as part of the universal unconscious - this fits into the story cycle of the Knucker hole which is a really deep watery hole; one where you can't find the bottom and thus travels into the underworld or the deep unconscious mind. Sussex ponds, like the Lyminster Knucker Hole, were/are muddy ponds famous for their muddy deeps and ability to swallow a horse & carriage whole, thus they were feared as a place to get lost in. BTW the mud really stinks I remember my mother being less than pleased after I fell into our local one as a lad.

"In alchemical symbolism dragons are associated with fire and the primal chaotic material. " The Massa Confusa "Mythologically, the night sea journey motif usually involves being swallowed by a dragon or sea monster. It is also represented by imprisonment or crucifixion, dismemberment or abduction, experiences traditionally weathered by sun-gods and heroes ". The night sea journey, described in Jungian thought, is where the hero traverses a difficult and dangerous journey in order to overcome an obstacle and be transformed and strengthened for any trials ahead. This can also be related to a water underworld journey through the Knucker Hole, similar to Beowulf's journey to fight Grendel's mother.

The night sea journey is essential to the Western Mystical tradition and Individuation, in my personal gnosis. Individuation is what made the western mystical path feel like the correct path for me, it's not something that seems to be part of the Eastern Mystical tradition. Individuation is:

  1. The act or process of individuating, especially the process by which social individuals become differentiated one from the other
  2. The condition of being individuated; individuality
  3. Philosophy a. The development of the individual from the general or universal. b. The distinction or determination of the individual within the general or universal
  4. In Jungian psychology, the gradual integration and unification of the self through the resolution of successive layers of psychological conflict

Alchemical Transformation

Something else in the investigation of the Knucker also resonated - that in Alchemical thought it can be related to the primal chaos or Massa Confusa. So I wanted to investigate what other creatures are associated with Alchemy and found this list, which relates back to my older post on Alchemy here...

  • Blackening - Black Crow, Raven, Salamander, Massa Confusa (or Ouroboros)
  • Whitening - White Swan, White Eagle, skeleton
  • Greening - Green Lion, Green Dragon
  • Rapid cycling through iridescent colours - Peacock's Tail
  • White Stone - White stag, Unicorn
  • Reddening - Pelican feeding young with its own blood, cockerel
  • Final transmutation - Phoenix reborn from the fire
And hidden amongst this search was this virtual bookshop which had a little book about the Search for Abraxas. Hello! Abraxas now that's intriguing! What does Abraxas have to do with Alchemy? Apparently quite a lot...


The seven letters spelling its name may represent each of the seven classic planets or the 7 Alchemical stages. In the system described by Irenaeus (2nd Cent Bishop of Lugdunus in Gaul who was criticizing Gnosticism and it's Alchemical/Magical foundations),..

"the Unbegotten Father" is the progenitor of Nous, (intellect) and from Nous Logos (reason), from Logos Phronesis (practical thought), from Phronesis Sophia (sophistication) and Dynamis (potential), from Sophia and Dynamis principalities, powers, and angels, the last of whom create "the first heaven." They in turn originate a second series, who create a second heaven. The process continues in like manner until 365 heavens are in existence, the angels of the last or visible heaven being the authors of our world. "The ruler" [principem, i.e., probably ton archonta] of the 365 heavens "is Abraxas, and for this reason he contains within himself 365 numbers."  Which takes us back to the Self-referential or recursive nature of the Ouroboros.

Allegedly Abraxas is a mis-translation in Latin of the Greek Abrasax but this led my mind-flow to think of the stages as an equation like this
Abrasax -> Nous -> Logos -> Phronesis -> Sophia -> Dynamis -> Abraxas
which is a self-referential alchemy of logical steps moving from the initial "unbegotten father" of Abrasax to the "first heaven" or paradise of Abraxas. The sum of the numbers is Abrasax is 365 Α = 1, Β = 2, Ρ = 100, Α = 1, Σ = 200, Α = 1, Ξ = 60 and is "the power above all, and First Principle,"

So there we have a flow from the Water Dragon to the Knucker to the deep dark unconscious self, via the Knucker Hole, and this led me to the Alchemical transformation which led me back to my childhood and Abraxas and the musical paradise that is Santana Abraxas. As a youth I must have read Ursule K LeGuin's 'A Wizard of Earthsea' a hundred times and every time I listened to Santana's Abraxas on repeat, the music and story would mean that hours could pass without me recognising the passing of time and barely remembering turning the LP record over. A story about a magical transformation, listening to music about an alchemical transformation whilst I myself was going through a transformation... now how recursive or self-referential is that! It also explains the mystery that my youthful mind had around the cover to Santana Abraxas, the teenager in me viscerally appreciated it, but it's meaning is now revealed; a vision of paradise.

With my earlier post on the Alchemy for personal growth there are now many symbols that can be related to the 7 alchemical steps;

  • the Classical planets - Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Moon, Sun
  • the emotional states - Thinking, Feeling, Rationalising, Rectifying, Dreaming, Condensing, Realising
  • the metals - lead, tin, iron, copper, quicksilver, silver, gold
  • the animals - Knucker, White swan, Green lion, Peacock, Unicorn, Pelican, Phoenix
  • the algebra - original thought, intellect, reason, practical thought, sophistication, potential, enlightenment
These lists of alchemical transformations and logical steps reminds me of the Ogham associations. More importantly what I take from this is that it is an iterative process. Once you have cycled through the stages from one Abrasax to Abraxas state then that becomes the starting point for the next cycle. In computing mathematics the essential part of a recursive routine is the exit clause. What then, philosophically, would be the exit clause within the western mystical tradition from the recursive alchemical cycle of personal transformation? I would posit that the exit clause is complete enlightenment; the western mystical equivalent to the Buddhist nirvana.

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