Read an extract from Martin’s commentary on the Russian story of Ivan the Bear’s Son, from A Branch from the Lightning Tree.
‘This is a point in our lives where we decide (or are forced) to throw the anchor down, to live in one place, have a teacher, dig in…’
Throwing Down the Anchor
This descent is characterized by the “black” stage of the initiation process. When one enters the black, a kind of sobering occurs, an awareness of things lost in the scramble for power and affirmation. The stillness of a hospital bed can allow the space for a particular opening to occur, often into the deep arms of grief. There is a humanity in the black, knowledge of rupture, casualties of greed, lives burnt out by the heat of ascension. Ironically this is often judged in modern life as “going off the rails” and one is regarded as unstable and peripheral, “a shadow of one’s former self.” Rather than a stage of growth, it is a dead end; one is no longer of use to the corporation. Being trapped in the red and refusing to move will result in a kind of Rolling Stones’ posture, looking always backwards to when you had time on your side. In Baba’s terrain, the underworld, initiation, and the black, you feel the scythe pass through your bubble of immortality.
The Black Knight wields his sword reluctantly and only when he has reached the sober realization that it is necessary.9
We find in this often-terrifying place odd shoots of growth coming up through the bogs and the scorched earth. In his practice, Jung emphasized something called “amplification,” a focused exploration of specific images that arose from your life or dreams. By describing the use, look, or atmosphere of the object, one revealed its resonance. This is quite different from “free association” in which you allow your imagination to move outwards, such as cat-pet-home-warmth; instead, amplification narrows and deepens the pursuit.
We could say that the Black is a kind of amplification after the expansive associations of the Red. As Ivan descends, he limits his possibilities, he leaves light behind, he follows one specific road. The endless adventures and the myriad possibilities are over. As Baba enters the Giants’ lodge, she shatters the gilded fortress of their consensual beliefs and pulls them into direct experience of the unpalatable.
This is a point in our lives where we decide (or are forced) to throw the anchor down, to live in one place, have a teacher, dig in. We look around the studio and see many unfinished paintings, different languages attempted and abandoned. Meeting the black involves working by lamplight, understanding the alchemy of oil paint, filling the doorway of your hut with corpses so no happy relatives get in. I’m not saying we live here forever, but we abandon the paths of sun to pay attention to the moonlit trail. This is a gift the descent brings. As the Turkish Sufi Ummi Sinan sings:
I was heedless.
It came to me as disgrace and loneliness.
My own Beloved taught me what I know. . .
The life of Ummi Sinan
Is a living burning testament of Love10
The initiatory experience, while severing us from the familiar, bestows a boon. In the space created by strangeness, in the otherness of Ivan’s situation, is the capacity for him to recognize an encounter with soul, the silent guest in all descents. The crisis has a beauty core in it and this is what Ivan has met.