peregrinatio of Michael Maier

Jung deals with a text by Michael Maier which also has the Red Sea as a major image. This is what I call the Peregrinatio textI want to condense and summarize Maier's Peregrinatio text for you:



This is a story about an adept, the alchemist who wrote the text, who embarks on a series of travels. He goes first to the north which is Europe; then he goes to the west which is America; he then goes to the east which is Asia. And now he has just one place left to go, namely south which is Africa, and so he heads south. The idea seems to be that he has to touch all the bases. On his way south he encounters a statue of Mercury pointing to Paradise. He gets a brief glimpse of Paradise but this doesn't last very long

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He [Maier] then proceeds to Africa which is “parched, sterile and empty”a very disagreeable place. In fact, as Jung says in ( CW14: par. 279 ), it has just about all the attributes of hell. In this place called Africa all the species mingle with each otherthey don't keep to their own kind. As there are only a few watering places, all the different species of animals cohabit with one another. Consequently new and bizarre creatures are being created all the time. When he arrives by the Red Sea, the adept learns that an animal named the Ortus is nearby. This strange creature is composed of four different colors: red, black, white and streaks of yellow. He also learns that the Ortus is thought to be related to, or maybe even identical with, the phoenix

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Now here's where the Red Sea comes inthis is the excuse for bringing in this textit brings up the Red Sea. Near the Red Sea he encounters the Erythraean Sibyl. (That just means Red Sibylshe lives near the Red Sea.) The Erythraean Sibyl, a prophetess who lives in a cave, tells him to go to the seven mouths of the Nile in order to seek Mercurius; that's what he's been seeking all alongMercurius

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Jung informs us, based on Maier's description, that these seven mouths of the Nile correspond to the seven planets. Therefore visiting each of them corresponds to visiting each of the seven planetary spheres

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He [Maier] goes through them all one by one, but Mercurius is not to be found. After visiting all seven, he then retraces his steps, and when he gets back to the first housethe house of lead or Saturnlo and behold! there he finds Mercurius. Mercurius wasn't there on his first visit, but after making the ascent and then coming back down again he found him. We're then told that he had numerous conversations with Mercurius but the content of those conversations is not reported. That's the story Jung comments on extensively, and which I'll discuss in a condensed and abbreviated way


The first aspect of the story describes a horizontal journey through the four quarters. This corresponds to imagery one encounters now and then in which there'll be a circular field divided into four sections. Life activities of some sort will be going on in three of them but the fourth one will be blank or void, or black and threatening.In some cases the fourth quarter is labeled “terra damnata” or “chaos” or something like that. That's how Maier's journey starts outhe travels north, west and east and has no problems; but when he goes south he runs into this fourth quarter

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This corresponds to the fundamental alchemical theme of the three and the four which comes up frequently in every depth analysis. In the course of trying to achieve some consciousness of one's wholeness, one must work his or her way through all four functions. The first function is the superior functionthat doesn't present any trouble because one's there to start with and most of life has been lived there. So the superior function, that's a piece of cake

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Very often the auxiliary function, number two, is also quite accessible because with a reasonably well-developed individual usually two functions are in pretty good shape. He or she will have a good judgmental function, either thinking or feeling, and a good perceptive function, sensation or intuition. So number two is not very hard. Number three starts to get difficult, and getting into some kind of living relation to it usually requires a good bit of analysis


But number four, that's the big one. The reason it's so difficult is that number four, the inferior function, has undergone essentially no development at allit's more or less continuous with the whole collective unconscious. So when the inferior function is touched in any major way it drags the whole collective unconscious along with it



Touching the inferior function also means that the ego is confronted with the opposites in their extreme form. It is confronted with the opposites in a lesser form when dealing with the second and third functions, but the fourth function challenges totally the superior function and the whole mode of life operation around which the ego has been organized. It turns all the ego's values upside-down. That means, then, that an encounter with the fourth function opens up the individual to the chaos of “Africa” as it is described in this text

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It's not uncommon to encounter dreams that involve traveling in the four directions, or sometimes traveling in one or more directions, and I think it's good to be on the alert for dreams that make special mention of directional matters. Let me give you a couple of examples



I remember a patient who had a distorted typology. This happens every now and thenyou can never be absolutely certain about it, it is hard to pin down with utter certaintybut it does seem that occasionally a certain kind of traumatic childhood can distort an individual's natural typology, and I think that happened with this woman. If she had been able to go her natural way she would have been a feeling type, but her childhood circumstances were such that she was distorted into a thinking type. What put me on to that idea was a series of dreams in which directions were trying to be reversed, for instance something that was oriented north was trying to be reoriented south

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For example, to give you a flavor, she dreamt: “I am looking out of my window gazing north. A great twister-tornado forms and moves south.” Another one: “I'm driving south in a car. I see the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion and stop.” So whenever one has a dream that emphasizes directions, be on the alert for something concerning typology

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Here is another particularly impressive directional dream that also has other similarities to Maier's Peregrinatio text:

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Tropical Birds


I'm on a trip, and on the way back from the seacoast on the north going on a north-south road [you see, paying so much attention to directionsusually dreams don't tell you exactly what direction the road is going in] we passed some tall telephone poles and on the crossbars were perched orange, pink, green and blue tropical birds, each of a different species. They had flown in from all four directions and arranged themselves symmetrically on the crossbars to form a pattern of color. All the birds faced south and they were all of a different species. They did this on five or so poles with the center pole having five cross arms and about twenty-five birds, all different. I was the only person to notice this. I thought it was the most exciting sight I'd ever seen. I remarked on it and my host said this stretch of road was famous for its birds. And back at school I resolved to revisit the birds. I planned to photograph them. I fantasized about them. I marveled at the symmetry of them, and I realized that this was the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen. The colors were so bright, pure and rare, and the birds perched in a pattern that alternated the orange, yellow, blue and green. How could the birds be so knowing?


And that was followed by a second dreamkeep this image in mind:

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Terrible Hellhole


After many adventures trying to see the birds again [it is as though he'd gotten a brief glimpse of Paradise, like Maier], I was with my parents trying to throw away an old radio. We visited a dump which we inspected from a kind of bridge to its north. The trash seemed to be about ten feet deep, visible through fissures, but my father leaned way over and glimpsed to the bottom of the dump and it was a cesspool. It contained the blackest and foulest gummy residue. This was the hellhole of the dump and he encouraged me to lean out and throw the radio into this ultima Thule, this terrible hellhole of putrefaction. I did so and I glimpsed the slimy, murky water far, far down, slanting off to the west [who puts in peculiarities like that?], and I felt I had glimpsed the worst life had to offer

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This man was a thinking-intuitive type. West very often refers to sensationcertainly in this case it does. So feeling and sensation would be his inferior functions, and that would correspond to the South and the West. But what's so remarkable about this dream, and the reason I bring it in here, is that it is an example of a glimpse of the four-colored animal (represented by the birds) on the one hand, followed by a glimpse of the hellhole of the inferior function on the other. And those two go together

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When one is on the way toward totality and gets a glimpse of itthe image of totalitythat potential totality then brings up with it the problem of the fourth function which is the hellhole. The fourth function is always the hellhole, and that is what one falls into. It just about costs one's life to climb back out of it, but having done so one then knows what it means to be whole because one has made the complete circuit

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We learn from the text that the Ortus is found by the Red Sea. Ortus means origin, so this is the original, first animal. Like the flock of birds in the dream, it is made up of four colors: black, red, white and yellow. Jung says in CW14: par. 282, that this “represents the living quaternity in its first synthesis.” In other words we can think of the Ortus as the primitive or animal version of the original Self. It is wholeness that hasn't yet undergone conscious differentiation through full encounter with the ego. It would correspond, roughly, to the serpent-chariot of last week's assignment which was also a kind of primitive quaternitya four-wheeled chariot, just as the Ortus is a four-colored animal

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Just like the serpent-chariot, the Ortus required transformation. The motif of transformation is brought up because we're informed that the Ortus is related to or may even be identical with the phoenix. The symbolism of the phoenix is going to come up again in another context, but I want to say a few words about it here because it's important imagery for dream interpretation

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Here in outline is the ancient Egyptian myth of the phoenix. It was thought to be a bird from India or Arabia, and at a certain point in its existence it would fly to Egypt. There it would signal to a priest of Heliopolis that it had arrived, and the priest would heap the altar with brushwood. The bird would then enter Heliopolis, the sacred place, mount the altar, ignite the fire and burn itself up. The next day the priest would examine the altar and find a worm in the ashes. On the second day the worm would have turned into a tiny birdling, and on the third day it would become a huge eagle which then takes flight back to its former abode

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The myth's Egyptian origin leads us to the idea that it is related to Egyptian embalming symbolism. The idea of death and rebirth is basic to the sacred embalming process of the ancient Egyptians. And this idea of creating an immortal body by first subjecting it to death through fire and then reconstituting it is the basic idea of alchemy. Alchemy is really the continuation of ancient Egyptian embalming symbolism. The transformation of the phoenix symbolizes the psychological transformation process of individuation which, like alchemy, creates a glorified, indestructible body through the same transformation process of death and rebirth that the phoenix subjects itself to. These are the imagery and ideas associated with the Ortus, you see

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Continuing with Maier's text, we are told that close by the Ortus is the Erythraean Sibyl. A sibyl is a medium or prophetess, and this image would correspond to the mediumistic anima who facilitates communication with the collective unconscious. The Sibyl advises the adept to look for Mercurius at the seven mouths of the Nile. This corresponds, as we shall see, to ascending the planetary ladder, undergoing sublimatio, and passing through the domain of each of the planetary archons

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That brings us to the vertical journey through the seven planetary houses. The horizontal journey comes first, and then when one gets to the fourth functionto Africa, as Maier didone has to go through the vertical journey. The horizontal journey involves the number four and visiting each of the four functions. The vertical journey involves the number seven and making the acquaintance of the seven different planetary principles, the archetypal factors that go to make up the total personality. They are symbolized by the Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn

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The ancient idea, you remember, is that in the course of being born on earth, a soul descends through those seven planetary spheres and picks up qualities of each of the seven planets. At death, returning to Heaven, it reverses the process and sheds each of the seven planetary influences on its trip back up

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These are the images of late medieval man for whom the ultimate achievement was to have undergone the complete sublimatio, be turned entirely to spirit and be done with it

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When Maier had gone through all the seven [planetary spheres], he hadn't found what he was looking for, so he had to come all the way back down again. After ascending through all seven spheres and, in psychological terms, achieving some psychological awareness of these various archetypal factors that make up the psyche, rather than being free of them, he has to take them back on again in a new way. As he descends, he must carry them consciously and undergo a new coagulatio. Only after coming down and returning to his starting point on earth does he find Mercurius, and he is then able to discourse with him

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The Good Shepherd was a symbolic image that also applied to Hermes, so there's an overlap here. This was the time when, in the collective psyche, the emerging Christian symbolism was in the process of assimilating pagan symbolism and taking on some of the attributes that had belonged to it. After meeting the beast and going through the instruction of the Rhoda figure, Hermas meets the shepherd. Likewise, after meeting his beast, the Ortus, and following the advice of the Sibyl to ascend and descend the planetary spheres, Maier finds the companion of the soul, Mercurius

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