We have not thereby explained the law of similars. Like every fact of life and nature, we have simply to accept it as basic, indeed axiomatic, not subject to any further explanation. Any further questions as to “why” are as unanswerable as questions about the why of gravitation. The absolute and ultimate mystery of being does not reveal itself to the human mind. [P&S, p. 40]
Whenever I reflect upon Edward Whitmont, I am immediately brought into a timeless sensation, as if our contact cannot be recalled without recalling the dreaming-ness his very being exuded, for to leave that dimension would be to exit the only realm that can contain relationship in its dynamism, in its wholeness. This may be a way of saying the obvious, that Dr Whitmont himself, his presence, was extraordinary, and that for many – his students, his patients, his colleagues, and his readers – he emanated a tangible force, or “Self-field” as he called it. That is to say, he was a living remedy.
I heard of his passing through fellow students who had, like me, sat in a simple circle, season upon season, in a tiny room off his main house in the woods of Connecticut, or out upon redwood picnic benches on the generous porch when weather permitted. I attended his moving memorial, feeling a spiritual necessity to face his death, but I was not alone that night in sensing a light and a vibrancy still among us.
I was greatly saddened. Having no real way to process the loss in a familial or communal sense, I was left with my hand-scribbled notes, his generous photocopied materia medica (which I still consult), and my precious cassettes. Despite my Buddhist grounding in the Truth of Impermanence, I missed Dr Whitmont. Perhaps because my experience of Whitmont was one of sharing in the presence of a seemingly timeless being – an “old soul”, a master – his bodily non-eternity was harder for me to accept. So, it was indeed among the most remarkable experiences of my life to receive, nearly a year after his death, the gift of a dream – a luminous dream teaching, whose recollection has ever since been a source of healing relief. The Tibetans say one can make a fine distinction between an ordinary karmic dream, one that simply discharges our mundane existential stress, and a dream of clarity, that is, a dream which brings us into the state of luminosity and awareness.
I am sitting at a long and marvelous table, the wood is of fine, old world quality, and there is plenty of space. The room is full of light. At the head of the table is Ron Whitmont, and to his left, his father, Dr Whitmont. I am seated across from them, at the far end of the table but facing Dr Whitmont directly. I am aware that I am taking notes with my favorite writing pen, an emerald green and black and gold Pelican. We are discussing the case, filling in Dr Whitmont, and, though I am dreaming, all of the case details are real.
It is my patient, Eve. She has suffered years upon years of miscarriage. Ron has sent her to me, although she is also his patient. I am remembering how surprised I was that Ron had referred her, because it is rather like sending her to the village healer. He and his wife are MDs, after all. And besides, I feel the remedy Ron has given her was correct. Ron is her homeopath, and my role is to give her acupuncture, and perhaps, some herbs.
I am secretly wondering if she might need, however, something else? I am recalling as Ron presents her case to us, that after many sessions with me, on a recent visit, Eve had sobbingly confessed that she felt her infertility was connected to an abortion which she had kept hidden from her husband, and her doctors, including Ron. Rivers of tears flowed during that session while I mirrored for her how many women of her generation had freely made the same choice, and still conceived. There was nothing to be ashamed of. It had not been the right time, or the right partner for her.
‘Women have always had ways of dissolving conceptions that were ill-timed,’ I assured her, listing the many ancient herbs that had been utilized, such as wild carrot, Peruvian Bark, pennyroyal, and juniper. Juniper, I think to myself, inside the dream, as Ron is reciting the symptoms that led him to give Eve Sabina (Juniperus), 200c.
His father is nodding, “yes yes yes” to each of the physicals Ron enumerates. ‘Her flow is liquid, bright red, pains extending from sacrum to pubes, stabbing, aching, as if the bones would separate… and she cannot tolerate music…’ I keep thinking about how Sabina was used as an abortificant by ancient women, and how beautiful it is, alchemically, that what can abort in Galenic herbal form can cure miscarriage in homeopathic potency. I am silent. Lost in time. Somehow I cannot break her confidentiality.
Suddenly Dr Whitmont thunders, “Yes, yes, Ron has given the Simillimum, but YOU!” His gaze pierces my soul, ‘YOU gave her the ~~~.” A word is said in the dream that I cannot bring out… something outside of my vocabulary… What did I give her? I am aching to know! I am staring into Whitmont’s gaze trying to place the word. Something occurs that I must say,“Dr Whitmont, aren’t you dead?” I ask, still staring into his eyes, mesmerized. A golden luminosity surrounds him, and he breaks into a Cheshire Cat smile, chuckling on and on in that biting, ironic way he had, “Vat do you zink, darlink?” he asks me, reverting comically to his Viennese accent, eyes beaming with vitality.
I know, now, that there is no such thing, really, as death. I understand from him, as if in a mind-to-mind transmission, full of heart and humor and light, that reality is totally fluid, and that he has not, through his death, ceased to be a guide, a teacher, a being of light.
When I awaken, I am suffused with healing sensation. And yet, the word I could not decipher in the dream still plagues me. I share the dream with my partner, telling him that it had the sound, nearly, of the word albino, but with a long “e”, al-bee-no. Although intimately shared, the mysterious word remained veiled, left to obscurity amidst the lost tongues of dreamtime.
Some months later, I happen to meet Alex Grey, the visionary painter. We are old acquaintances, and I feel easy telling him the dream, as he has worked deeply in his art on altered states of consciousness. "What could he have meant when he said in the dream, ‘You have given her the albino/al/bee/no?'” I ask Alex.
After some time, Alex cocked his head and asked, “Could Whitmont have said ‘albedo’?”
“’Albedo!’ Why yes, Alex, that word is even closer in sound to the dream word! My God, I think that is it! What on earth does it mean?”
“Well, wasn’t Whitmont an alchemist?” Alex queried.
“Yes,” I responded, “He even wrote a book called the Alchemy of Healing…”
Alex explained how the albedo was one of several important stages in Alchemy, one which represented the process of washing clean, of purification.
Marie-Louise von Franz in her lectures on Alchemy has characterized the albedo as the process of taking back our projections:
“In alchemical literature it is generally said that the great effort and trouble continues from the nigredo to the albedo; that is said to be the hard part, and afterwards everything becomes easier…” [MvF, p. 220]
“Alex, that’s astonishing. Because the patient in the dream had confessed to me something she was very ashamed of, and I had worked with her to come to terms with it – yes, to purify it, in fact.” I remembered and shared now with Alex, “this patient did once again become pregnant. And this time, she carried to term.”
Von Franz continues, “The negredo – the blackness, the terrible depression and state of dissolution – has to be compensated for by the hard work of the alchemist and that hard work consists, among other things, in constant washing; therefore even the work of the washerwoman is often mentioned in the text, or constant distilling, which is also done with the object of purification, for the metal is evaporated and then precipitated into another vessel, thus removing the heavier substances… through this hard work the matter becomes white. Whiteness suggests purification, no longer being contaminated with matter, which would mean what we analysts call technically, and so lightly, 'taking back our projections'. That is not an easy thing to do; it is something very complicated and difficult, for it is not as though one understood that one was projecting and would therefore not do it any more. It needs a long process of inner development and realization for a projection to come back. When it has been withdrawn, the disturbing emotional factor vanishes.
“As soon as the projection is really withdrawn a sort of peace establishes itself - one becomes quiet and can look at the thing from an objective angle. One can look at the specific problem or factor in an objective and quiet way and perhaps do some active imagination about it without constantly becoming emotional, or falling back into the emotional tangle. That corresponds to the albedo… what the alchemist symbolized with the idea of whitening was that the material they had been working on had now reached a form of purity and oneness… the experience is consolidated, and finally the work holds.” [MvF, 222, 223]
“So, Whitmont was saying that his son gave the patient the right remedy. What did you call it?” Alex asked, sincerely curious.
“Sabina! Yes, it was what we call her simillimum.”
“But,” Alex continued,
“Whitmont seems to have wanted you both to know that she also needed, and you
had given her, the albedo.”
The Simillimum: Sabina
Sabina, Juniperus Sabina, a conifer, a cypress, a small tree or shrub that is found all over Europe. An ancient plant that traces all the way back to antiquity, “Gossip records a miracle,” states Pliny the Elder, “that to rub the crushed berries all over the male part before coition prevents conception.” Another source of the same era advises the woman to place the crushed berries on the vulva prior to insertion. “One way or the other,” John Riddle notes, “juniper is inserted in the woman’s vagina and there it will act either as a contraceptive or an abortificant. Juniper was also taken orally… The abortive qualities of juniper generally are attributed to [the major component of]… its essential oil… sabinyl acetate.”
A plant demonized in the witch-hunting era, savin (sabina or juniper) was said to provoke “the courses”, “cause miscarriage” and to have the capacity to expel a “dead child.” For this reason, Oxford physician John Peachey, who well knew the medicinal aspects of plants, wrote in his 1694 Compleat Herbal of Physical Plants that savin was “ too well known and too much used by Wenches.” As recently as 1852 the Assize of Cornwall, Dr Pascoe was indicted for a criminal abortion by giving oil of savin (juniper, sabina) to a woman “with intent to procure miscarriage.” [Riddle].
Whitmont writes, in Psyche and Substance,“Complementation of two entities
means that only both together represent the whole; the same road is travelled,
the same ends are accomplished by what on the surface may appear as different
or even opposite means and ways.” Sabina,
healer and capacitor of miscarriage.
Clearly, Ron Whitmont had identified the simillimum, regardless of what
the patient, Eve, had left unrevealed.
And what of the albedo and the
alchemical purification? What happened
in the therapeutic encounter the day that Eve was able to reveal her grief, her
shame, her shadow? In the Alchemy
of Healing, Whitmont wrote about the ways in
which the healer as field, is catalytic: “… by virtue of his attunement
to the Self-field and to the implicate-order essences hidden in outer-world
substance dynamics… [the healer] also serves as transmitter and mediator of the
symbolic similie of the new pattern. Through this the renewing consciousness of
the entelechy, the Guiding Self, may emerge.”
Whitmont concludes, is what has been: “concretized
in myth and alchemy as the process of creating or refining gold and the lapis,
the philosopher’s stone.” [AH,
214] “The alchemists held that the transformation of base substances into gold
constituted the bringing forth and purifying of an innermost divine essence
that lies dormant in earthly existence. This process was considered tantamount
to a ‘healing’ of a ‘diseased’ substance… Transformation, purification, and
generation of this Lapis or eternal Self
on a psyche-substance level was a quasi-cosmic healing. [AH, 48]
“By analogy to the “purification” rites that restore the “gold” to its divine source, the status-quo resistance submits itself to the essence of the entelchy. It allows itself to be ‘shaken up’ by therapeutic modalities that mediate an influx that is ‘similar’ and corresponding to the nature of the impasse-provoking intruder on vital, emotional or spiritual levels.
“In this category belong also the approaches of ‘specifics’: homeopathic medicine, acupuncture, and the insight method of depth-psychotherapy, as well as the activity of the shaman who calls upon the ‘helping spirits’ or ‘extracts’ the illness from the body… all restore the vital flow and can also ‘unfreeze’ and bring to awareness emotional tensions and memories that were ‘buried’ in the physical body and modified the vital field.” [AH, 214]
Had, then, the field itself sent Eve to be “shaken up”, to be witnessed and administered the albedo by the very witchly healer, the alchemical “washerwoman,” in whose Self-field Sabina, the plant so long demonized for its abortive qualities, or revered for its contraception, could mystically complete its homeopathic dynamic, bringing to bear its secretively fertile, generating, life-sustaining action?
“It is an awesome feeling to realize that in this way, disturbed, conflict-trapped organic or psychic functioning is, by virtue of the resonance of similarity, connected instantaneously (or at least atemporarily) to macrocosmic form analogues in some other person or in some plant, animal or mineral substance.” [AH, 215]
The dream gift
Whitmont’s dream wisdom transmission, his directive, was to consider how both the simillimum and the albedo (or the alchemical principle) were necessary for healing. Anima/Animus, Yin & Yang, Substance & Healer, One without the Other is simply not effective. “Alchemy ostensibly concerned itself with the transformation of substance. But it held that for the work to be effective, there must be no separation between soul, spirit, substance and body… any transformation depends upon and includes the interaction of body, soul and spirit of both subject and object. Even for substance to be transformed, its body, soul and spirit must be interacted with the body, soul and spirit of the laborant.” [AH, 49]
This dream was, indeed, a Portal to the Source – a potent, metaphysical encounter with the energetic, lapis-golden-brilliant sage-presence of Whitmont, whom the alchemical Taoists would surely call Immortal.
John Berger, ‘Twelve Theses on the Economy of the Dead,’ Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance, Pantheon, 2007.
Ione, Listening In Dreams, I Universe, 2005.
Marie-Louise von Franz, Alchemy, An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology, Studies in Jungian Psychology, 1980.
Namkai Norbu, Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light, Snow Lion Publications, 1992.
John Riddle, Eve’s Herbs, A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West, Harvard University Press, 1997.
Edward C. Whitmont M.D., The Alchemy of Healing: Psyche and Soma, North Atlantic Books & Homeopathic Educational Services, 1993.
Edward C. Whitmont M.D., Psyche and Substance: Essays on Homeopathy in the Light of Jungian Psychology, North Atlantic Books & Homeopathic Educational Services, 1980.
Sylvia Brinton Perera & Edward C. Whitmont, Dreams, A Portal to the Source, Routledge, 1989.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Juniperus sabina; H.Zell
Splendor Solis; Women washing; public domain
Keywords: Whitmond, miscarriages, abortion, Sabina, albedo, alchemy, cleansing