Lessons from King Lindorm

In the story of King Lindorm, there are a few things that stand out for me…

Cycles of nigredo, albedo and rubedo

The cycles of nigredo, albedo and rubedo occurs in different areas and in different phases of the process. They may change characteristics, but the basic process is most likely endless. There is always further to go in terms of a differentiated, mature, functional and conscious conjunctio.

We may awaken as awake emptiness and form, into realized selflessness. And yet, there is always more maturing and development in store for this individual, selfless or not.

Engaged persistence

At two points in the story, we see the value (and necessity) of engaged persistence.

The third bride engaged the lindorm in alternately shedding night skirts and layers of skin, nine of them altogether, and then continued with beating him to pulp, before dipping him in milk, wrapping him in the night skirts, and cradling him.

And King Lindorm, following the miscommunication with the castle, engaged persistently with his mother until the situation was clarified.

The calm after the storm

Following the hard and messy work of the third bride, there was a nurturing phase of dipping the lindorm in milk, wrapping him, cradling him, and then falling asleep for a short while.

And each nigredo/albedo phase is followed by a rubedo, a period of maturing, resting and reaping the fruits of the work. It is a period of rest before the next cycle is initiated.

Each cycle born out of what needs to be differentiated and made conscious

Each nigredo/albedo/rubedo cycle seems to be born out of what is undifferentiated and unconscious from the previous cycle. And it is initiated by the trickster, whether it shows up in our own actions or in the wider world.

The old queen couldn’t help but eating the second rose, in spite of the warnings against doing it. She was unconscious, at the mercy of instincts and impulses. She couldn’t help it, and it initiated the first nigredo/albedo/rubedo cycle.

And the nigredo of this cycle was amplified by the lindorm who somehow knew that a marriage was what he needed, but ended up promptly eating the brides (if he only wanted to eat the maidens, he wouldn’t have needed to marry them.) He too was at the mercy of his instincts and impulses. He couldn’t help it.

The second cycle is similarly born out of exactly that which needs to be made conscious. There was a separatio of the masculine and feminine so they both could explore themselves more fully – the masculine through war and the feminine through mothering.

And there was also a misalignment between the masculine and the feminine, partly because they didn’t quite know themselves yet, and partly because they hadn’t explored their relationship much yet. Much is still undifferentiated and unconscious, leading into the next cycle of nigredo/albedo/rubedo.

Again, that which needs further differentiation and to be made more conscious, is exactly what initiates the next cycle. It creates cause for grief (nigredo), which nudges us towards differentiation and consciousness (albedo), and finally into a resolution (rubedo.)

Looking at my own life, it is not difficult to find examples of that process.

King Lindorm and more details from alchemy

At another level of detail, we see how other alchemical terms fit in with the story of King Lindorm.

  1. First, there is the unconscious union of opposites, specifically of masculine and feminine represented by the king and the queen. This is how we all start out life, as a whole, but an undifferentiated and unconscious whole. This is the prima materia, the raw material for the alchemical process of individuation and awakening.
  2. This union is barren, unfruitful (possibly because of a lack of conscious love and engagement between the opposites.) This is nigredo, a phase of grief, of things not working out the way the personality would like it to work out, a sense of something missing, of not being right. This is more specifically called mortificatio.
  3. The king is away waging a war, creating a separation of the masculine and feminine. This is the beginning of a more conscious differentiation of the two, an exploration of what they are distinct from each other. This is separatio, a process of differentiation and discrimination, exploring aspects of the whole as distinct from each other. One way separation occurs in our lives is through consciously identifying with one end of the polarity and disidentifying with the other, but there can also be a conscious recognition of both.
  4. The queen goes out into the woods, leaving the castle behind, the familiar, the conscious attitudes and identities. The grief of the nigredo is what prompts her to go beyond what is familiar, because it obviously does not work, it cannot help her in this situation.
  5. She can’t help herself and eats both roses, in spite of being warned against doing so. This is still a largely unconscious phase, and she can’t help but following impulses and instincts. There is a coarse differentiation (the king is away), but still not familiarity enough with the feminine for it to function in a more differentiated and conscious way. It shows that the work is far from done, and this (inevitable) act leads to…
  6. … the next nigredo when she gives birth to the lindorm, bringing mortification and grief (mortificatio) to the kingdom (representing the individual). The nigredo deepens when the lindorm demands a bride, and promptly eats her much as his mother ate the second rose. Again, he can’t help himself. The intensity of the process increases, more heat (calcinatio) is applied to the alchemical vessel. We unconsciously act on impulses, and it creates stress and problems in our life.
  7. Now, an aspect of the feminine is more differentiated and conscious, enough to stand up against the lindorm. His third bride is a commoner, probably with more common sense as well, and she follows the advice of the old woman in the woods. Her encounter with the lindorm is one of engagement, and of a persistent torturous process of her shedding layers of night skirts and him shedding layers of skin. Here we see the alchemical vessel at work in a more conscious way, as an attitude of persistence in doing the work, providing a container for this ongoing and often difficult process. This is also a phase of albedo, of purification, shedding old layers of beliefs, identities and habitual patterns, and of sublimatio, of distilling and clarifying.
  8. As a dramatic climax of the albedo, she beats what is left of him into pulp. The old attitude and identity is completely taken apart and dissected. There is a more more detailed and specific differentiation, a further and more dramatic separatio. And again, the heat of the process, the calcinatio, is turned up allowing this to happen.
  9. After the grief of the (double) nigredo, and the torturous and engaged work of the albedo, there is a second phase of the albedo, the purification, where she dips what is left of him in a bucket of milk, wraps him in the night skirts, cradles him, and falls asleep for a short while. This is the nurturing, sweet rest after the hard work, lasting for a brief while until its fruition. After the intentional work (yang), there is a period of rest (yin) where the seeds germinate on their own, bringing the fruits of the work in its own time. The bathing in the milk is also solutio, the final dissolving of the old attitude and identity, allowing something completely different to emerge.
  10. And what emerges from the death of the lindorm, the monster, is a beautiful prince. They have a second wedding to celebrate, and she becomes pregnant. This is a lesser conjunctio, a union of (somewhat) differentiated opposites. It is also a limited (and very welcome) rubedo, the maturation and fruition of the work up until now.
  11. They are finally happy and content, celebrating, enjoying the new welcomed state of the kingdom. They have received what they all wanted. The old king and queen have a son, with a pregnant wife. He transformed from a monster to a beautiful prince. The commoner married a prince and will in time become a queen herself. She is pregnant and their union fruitful. Why move on? Nobody in their right mind would want to disturb this rubedo, shake it up not knowing what the outcome would be.
  12. And yet, that is exactly what happens. The situation is shaken up, things are set in motion which propels the kingdom beyond this comfortable (although preliminary) state. After a period of rest and enjoying the fruits of the previous work, there is a new separatio and the vessel is again heated up in the calcinatio.
  13. The kings both go away to war, in a separatio of the masculine and feminine. More differentiation is needed. The specifics of each pole of the polarity, and of their relationship, needs to be explored further and made more conscious. The women stay at the castle exploring themselves through motherhood. The Kings leave the castle, their conscious and familiar ways of being in the world. Having left, they can now try themselves out in battle, in the real world. Especially for King Lindorm, the war is how he gets to know himself, what he has within himself, what he is good for. Leaving the castle is the initial separatio, an initial differentiation allowing for further, and a more engaged and detailed, differentiation. In a war, the engagement in the real world, the heat is on (calcinatio), heating up the process much as the process was heated up in his own transformation.
  14. In the war, he gets to know more about himself, the masculine is further differentiated and brought into consciousness. But more differentiation and consciousness is still needed in the relationship between the masculine and the feminine. There is still a misalignment there, miscommunication, which sets in motion the next phase of the process.
  15. The red knight, the messenger between the opposites, the field and the castle, and the king and the queen, distorts the messages creating confusion, grief and drama on both sides. Another nigredo is coming, allowing attention to be brought where it needs to go, to that which needs further differentiation, clarification and consciousness.
  16. This time, the old queen disobeys her order, for the first time, showing her new level of maturity, differentiation and consciousness. But the young queen has more to learn. She is sent away from the castle, the conscious and ruling views and identities, and once again goes into the woods. There is a differentiation, a separatio, between the feminine and the habitual and ruling views and identities.
  17. She climbs a tall mountain, showing her determination, persistence and strength, aspects of the alchemical vessel. Here, she feeds milk to a swan and a crane, transforming them into two princes. This time, the transformation is far easier than with the lindorm, and the creatures transformed are already beautiful in themselves. It is another albedo phase, another clarification, which is also shown in the white color of the milk and the birds. It is another sublimatio, making what was beautiful and noble, yet unconscious and instinctual, more differentiated and conscious.
  18. King Lindorm returns to the castle, and through an engaged and persistent process clarifies the situation with the old queen, his mother. This is yet another albedo and sublimatio.
  19. He then works it out with his own wife, using salt in the process which again reflects the whitening, the albedo. This third instance of albedo and sublimatio shows that the process happens in several phases and in several different areas and ways.
  20. A more real, genuine and conscious relationship is established between the king and the queen(s), between the masculine and feminine. This is the greater conjunctio, leading into a more full, mature and abundant rubedo. The young couple has many more children, and the two liberated princes marries and establishes their own kingdoms. The abundance of the situation not only benefits the initial kingdom, but also the wider world.
  21. We see how the process as a whole has gone from (a) undifferentiated and unconscious unity, where impulses and instincts are automatically followed, via (b) differentiation and exploring of each pole in the polarities, to (c) a conscious and differentiated unity within the polarity, and also how this happens in many areas and in many phases. It is an ongoing process, and even here, in the new and more mature rubedo, there is room for going further. There is more to explore, more to differentiate, more to live out in real life and clarify and refine, more to allow into a more differentiated unity.

    For instance, in this story, what happened with the old king? It seems that he has some work to do as well. In many areas there seems to be more work to do, within the royal family, in their relationship with their citizens (the old king forced a commoner to give up his daughter), and also in their relationships with neighboring kingdoms (there has been a lot of wars).

    In each of these areas, there is room for further development and maturing, which means that the trickster will come up again and nudge them out of their familiar and comfortable patterns and identities, into a nigredo (disappointment, difficulty, sadness, grief) which in turn can shift into albedo (clarification) and rubedo (a new maturity and abundance.)

  22. Finally, the teller of the story mentions that he was given a tin sandwich in a sieve to eat the last time he visited the kingdom. Tin is partly made up of lead, signifying the prima materia, and I suspect that this is an invitation to anyone listening to engage in the same process on their own, by eating their own prima materia. Eating it makes us into a vessel for the process, and it also shows how we can (and must) fully embrace its raw material, our life as it is given to us.

    The story, and the process, starts all over again, this time with ourselves. From being an audience, we are invited to this time play out the story with our own life as raw material.

King Lindorm, the trickster, and going beyond what we know

One of the roles of the trickster, whether it shows up from ourselves or the wider world, is to nudge us beyond what we are familiar with – our identities, roles, world views, beliefs.

It is usually not what our personality wants, can often be uncomfortable, and may even seem disastrous, but it is always an invitation to move beyond our familiar identities.

We went through one version of the Scandinavian fairy tale of King Lindorm today, in the workshop on alchemy, and the trickster shows up several times there, disturbing a stable situation, setting things in motion that brings the kingdom ahead in its development (the individuation process of differentiating then integrating the whole of who we are.)

The king and queen are not able to have children. The queen meets an old woman in the woods (in the untamed, beyond the known areas of the castle) who tells her to eat a white or a red rose, but not both. She eats the red first, but can’t help herself and eat the white as well, in spite of the warning. This is the first instance of the trickster, this time in the form of an irresistible impulse. It also shows the initially unconscious union of the male and female in all of us, one that is driven by impulses and instincts that cannot be resisted because there is not much or any consciousness there.

While the king is away waging a war, she gives birth to a lindorm (a dragon), which initiates the first nigredo phase for them all (mortification.) After the king returns, the lindorm demands a bride. He is given a princess, and he promptly eats her. This is still an unconscious phase where the demands of the impulses and instincts are automatically given in to, first when the lindorm is given the bride, and then when he can’t help himself and eats her (much as his mother ate the second rose).

This repeats itself once more, but the third time the bride is a commoner (presumably with better sense). Before the wedding, she meets the (same) old woman out in the woods, gets advice for how to deal with the lindorm, and is able to tame him.

Actually, she tricks him into shedding all of his nine layers of skin, and then beats him into a bloody pulp. This is the second time the trickster shows up, this time tricking the lindorm. Also, it represents the albedo phase, a purification. After the beating, she bathes (what is left of) him in milk, wraps him in the nine night skirts she took off, cradles him, and falls asleep.

This is the soothing, nurturing and comforting end phase of the albedo, after the grief of the nigredo and the heavy work of the earlier albedo.

When she wakes up, she finds herself in bed with a beautiful prince, transformed from the remains of the lindorm, a rebirth of a prince out of the death of the monster.

Now follows a period of joy, an early rubedo phase. One of maturing, of reaping the fruits of the work that has gone before.

But the work is not finished (is it ever?) And to start the next cycle, pushing the kingdom beyond its complacency and a situation everyone is enjoying, the trickster returns. King Lindorm, as his father before him, is away waging war when his wife gives birth to two healthy boys. A red knight acts as a messenger between those at the castle and King Lindorm, but for unknown reasons changes the content of the messages, causing a great deal of grief and upheaval.

He tells King Lindorm that his wife has given birth to two dogs (when she has really given birth to two boys), and then gives a return message to the old queen with an order to burn and kill all three of them (King Lindorm’s message was to allow them all to live.)

This is the next nigredo, a return of the grief and sorrow, showing the cyclical nature of the three alchemical phases. There is more work to do, which is shown in the misalignment between the masculine and feminine. Although they are friendly towards each other, serious problems still arise through miscommunication.

The old queen disobeys the order (there is more consciousness here now), sends the two boys to a wet nurse, and the young princess out into the woods (again, going into the untamed areas, beyond the familiar realms of the castle, the conscious identity.)

She meets a swan and a crane, feeds them milk, and they turn into two princes. This is a much easier albedo, this time transforming already noble creatures into human form. Noble and beautiful, yet instinctual, patterns are released from instincts into more consciousness.

This time, there is a more full reconciliation. The communication between the masculine and feminine is established in a more genuine way through some work. The two liberated princes marries and establishes their own kingdoms, and King Lindorm and his wife have several more children.

This is a more full, complete and rich rubedo, where the fruits of the work are abundant and spreads out to the wider world. It no longer only benefits the original kingdom (individual), but also other kingdoms.