In the life of each of us comes a moment when we realize the infertility of our earthly existence. During countless incarnations on this planet, we gain a huge amount of experience, from which it becomes clear that achieving fulfillment is impossible here. We realize that despite gaining all possible material goods, a dream life partner or professional self-realization, we still feel empty and long for another world. We can feel strange on the Earth, as if we were trapped here. The symbol of our enslavement and our unholy condition are the dimmed stars in a crown from Konopnicka’s poem. “Great nostalgia” for a spiritual home, for a lost divine homeland appears in us.
In Gnostic teachings this longing is called pre-remembrance. There is an unexplained feeling in our consciousness, that there is a perfect, loving world to which we can return. This pre-remembrance is represented in the legend by the old highlander. He is the representation of the voice of our true self, that speaks to us through the so-called spirit spark, present in our heart. This spark is a celestial particle hidden within us, a seed from which our divinity can be reborn. Its voice reminds us of the spiritual treasure that awaits us.
This voice speaks to little “Johnny” inside us, to a part of our psyche inspired by our spirit spark and its longing for God. The coincidence of the name of the main hero of the legend and the biblical John the Baptist, who straightens the paths for the arrival of the Savior, is quite interesting. The John in us prepares our system for the birth of a new soul, which representation is Jesus in the Bible. We need to understand that all the characters and events described in the Bible and in other holy books of various religious traditions, as well as myths from around the world, relate to aspects of our inner world and our internal struggles on the path to spiritual freedom.
When this call of freedom arises, the Johnny hidden in us sets off to look for the divine treasure. Alchemists believed that Mercury was the patron of this phase of our spiritual path. At this stage, we begin to seek spiritual Truth. We go to various lectures, workshops, meetings, read esoteric books, meditate, change the way we eat, we work on our own character. In other words, we try to vibrate in harmony with the world of the Spirit in every possible way. And if we are persistent, there comes a moment when, according to Jesus’ words: ‘search and you will find’, there is a turning point on our path and we are connected with the forces of Gnosis. A symbol of the place where such a connection occurs, the place which is a bridge between our “under-moon” terrestrial world and the dimension of the Spirit, was a cave for the ancients. It was the rock cave that Jesus was born in and in which he rose from the dead.
Rocks and stones have always been associated with the Earth, hard matter and crystallization, which was ruled by Saturn. Under Saturn’s patronage there is the first alchemical phase of the process of transformation of the earthly “leaden” man into a divine being dressed in a robe of golden light. This phase is called nigredo – blackening. The cave is a symbolic crack in our materialistic attitude. A place within us that the cosmic energy can effect. Johnny from the legend pushes the stone away and goes down to the dark cave. Here, he confronts his own fear and learns the darkness within him. He experiences the first of two “dark nights of the soul” – the night described by Saint John of the Cross as the dark night of the mind. He is initially purified of his most mundane aspirations, materialistic attachments and bodily desires. He faces his shadow and slowly illuminates it with the power of his consciousness. As he becomes accustomed to the previously unconscious aspects of himself, he receives more and more spiritual fire. The legend shows us this in the picture of a bonfire and the conversation with the knight.
Johnny enters a large cave and in the light of the fire he notices “beautiful horses, and the sleeping knight in shining armor among them“. In this phase he recognizes the divine liberating forces hidden within himself. The awakened knight shows him the neighboring cave in which other sleeping knights rest on their swords. When the time comes, they will wake up from sleep, get on their steeds and free the mountains and the land.
Let’s stop for a moment by the picture of a knight on a horse. A man riding a palfrey, communicating with it through the subtle movements of its body, controlling it and melting with it into one for many hours, brings to mind a centaur. In this mythical form of a half-horse, half-human, aiming with a bow to the stars, the alchemists saw the perfect combination of body, soul and spirit. A centaur with the head, breast and arms of a man as well as the trunk and legs of a horse is a picture of the divine trinity pressed into the animal, material body, symbolized by the number four (four legs of the animal). It is a picture of the spirit that gradually takes control over the animal instincts in man. This image is not accidental here, because it refers to the influences of Jupiter that appear at the end of the nigredo process.
Jupiter, in contrast to dark, cold, melancholic and earth-bound Saturn, brings optimism, warmth and idealism, but also a tendency to exaggeration and lack of moderation. Like in the centaur, we see here a combination of the divine and the animal. We can also read the same image from the biblical figure of John the Baptist – described as “a voice of one calling in the wilderness.” As we read in the Gospel of Mark (Mk 1: 6):
“John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.”
The camel hair, in which John is clothed, symbolizes the earthly body from which animal instincts have not been completely eradicated. In this body, however, there is already a transmutation force, whose symbol is a camel. This desert animal has the ability to convert stored fat reserves into energy and water. The leather belt on John’s hips illustrates his will to distance himself from the lower aspects of his nature. The locusts that he eats is energy that absorbs what is thick and low, and honey is the gold of the spirit in which he slowly begins to clothe. The third stanza of the poem by Maria Konopnicka refers to this stage of the path, talking about “winds galloping through the steppe trail” and “steeds’ golden horseshoes”.
Jupiter’s energies feed Johnny with the strength of ideals, hope and light. The knight in shining armor, personifying the virtues of the soul, offers him a burning glade that is to illuminate the further stages of his path. Johnny leaves the cave transformed, purified and enriched with the light of the spirit which circulates in his blood. His exit from the cave into the light of day, heralds the beginning of the albedo – the next stage of the alchemical process. This exit from the cave can be compared to the birth of a new soul in man, whose symbol is Jesus in the Bible. This soul is born of the spark we have talked about above.
Johnny returns to his own people and begins to share his Light with others. He walks the path of belittling himself so that the Other One in him – the new soul, Jesus, can grow in strength. The legend ends with the albedo phase.
Yet, Johnny receives the promise that when the time comes, all sleeping knights (Christ’s forces) will wake up in his system and free his soul from the world of matter, so that he will be able to return to his spiritual home.
There are two stages of the path ahead of him:
– citrinitas, under the patronage of Venus and the Moon, which is synonymous with further purification, maturing of a new soul and weaving its luminous garment,
– the transition stage, between citrinitas and rubedo, under the patronage of Mars, when the crucifixion occurs, which is a symbol of the total death of the old “I”. The culmination of the process is the rubedo stage, when the gold of the Spirit circulates in human blood. When John’s soul, like a divine bride, marries the spirit and appears with a picture from the Apocalypse of Saint John, like:
“a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Rev 12: 1).
Both Johnny from the legend, as well as each of us, receives such promise:
And when one hundred days, one hundred nights shall pass,
with hearts full of power knights will rise,
knights will rise, horses will mount,
and they’ll light up stars in the golden crown.
“It’s freedom” of which the old highlander spoke.