Black Sun Rising
THE BLACK SUN is an image that probably goes back to the most archaic periods of human history and, if one theory of its origin is true, to the very first experience of a total eclipse of the Sun. A time of absolute terror to our ancestors, when the apparent death of the source of light, the energies and cycles of life and order itself occured, often mythologized as its devouring by a great monster, typically a dragon or serpent. A similar perspective was probably held on the Black Moon, or the lunar eclipse. The Black Sun was thus an apocalyptic image; a collapse of the ‘natural order’ into darkness and chaos; a dangerous event that might one day be permanent for those who did not understand astronomical phenomena. It was a period when the Sun-devouring Beast had to be warded off ,and chained back in its den.
Though greater astronomical knowledge would have revealed the ‘Beast’ to be a natural lunar power, as much a part of nature as anything else, this fear survives in the old astrological interpretation of an eclipse as a time of great chaos in general, and in particular the death of an age or a nation, or its king (associated with the Sun). Some believe such an event may have been the original source of the sacrifice of the king, or mock-king, sacrificed, probably by ritualized decapitation, to discharge the significance of the eclipse.
Later metaphysical concepts evolved and one popular view saw the ordered world as emerging from a Primal Chaos, much like the Potentia of quantum physics, and so the apocalyptic Black Sun also came to be regarded as the primary gateway to this Void, or Great Night. It was thus a source of energies from the Abyss, and a portal to a path through it. The image was also taken up by alchemists who used it as a symbol for the Nigredo phase of the Great Work: the dissolution of the alchemist’s subject to its primal base before its reconstitution in a new form.
Eventually the metaphysical paradigm was refined into a sophisticated philosophy involving non-dualism and a paradoxical space beyond fundamental binary oppositions, a place of ‘both- and’ rather than ‘either-or’, or more precisely in the case of the Black Sun, of ‘neither-nor’. What came to be one of the most important features of the Black Sun mythos, however, was not its darkness, but the brilliant ‘crystalline white light’ that emerged from it, akin to the blinding corona of a true eclipse, and reflected in the subsequent stages of alchemy following the Nigredo.
The idea appears to have been based on a notion similar to that found in Taoism, that the intensification of one extreme leads to its opposite: in this case, an immersion in darkness leads to an even greater light and order than had previously existed, a more subtle and positive use of the non-dualist paradigm. Over time, other additions and modifications affected the Black Sun mythos, but these will be discussed later.
If one looks beyond theory, it is apparent that it is the evocative power of the Black Sun and its practical uses that have given it its power over the centuries. Practical uses for the Black Sun vary quite a lot: not surprisingly, given that the tradition probably goes back thousands of years.It does not seem to be the case that this tradition formed a single current or body of knowledge, but rather the reality behind the Black Sun image was contacted in a variety of ways by people drawn to it, and systematic ways of dealing with it were constantly invented and reinvented.
Despite this, rumours have long circulated that the Order of the Black Sun (and an Order of the Black Moon) is the name of the most secret and ancient of all the occult orders! The basic idea of a Black Sun rite is the embrace of ‘darkness’, for various purposes. To achieve a kind of nirvanic state in contact with the Void and perhaps achieve Gnosis; to commune with and channel the forces of Chaos for whatever reasons the magician may have; or, more commonly, to create a Void from which a new creation or state of consciousness will spontaneously emerge, a radically different new order achievable only from an initial pure Chaos.
In this sense, alchemy can be seen as one popular manifestation of the rite, however, the Black Sun tradition contains far deeper and potentially dangerous manifestations. Because of this, much of these ritualized manifestations remain highly secret, though some are discoverable, and often reconstructible, with enough research and imagination. The basic ‘darkness’ encountered in most manifestations is principally a darkening of consciousness, whether ‘consciousness’ is defined as ‘mind’, ‘ego’ or ‘sensory field’. All of these can be seen as the Sun being eclipsed by appropriate techniques:something that can be seen as a trip into, or encounter with, the unconscious mind, and sometimes the cause of the emergence of a new consciousness. However, as the unconscious mind is seen as part of a wider invisible reality underlying the Cosmos, an encounter with it is also an encounter with this foundational reality. The internal realities of consciousness and its energies, and the external realities of Chaos and its energies, are entwined in this model, or more precisely, different perspectives on the same reality. At the end of this article we will explore the specific practicalities of some Black Sun rites, but first it is necessary to explore the history of the tradition in more detail.