Pisces: Hearing the Sirens’ Call

Hearing the Sirens Call – Pisces & the Alchemy of Bliss

The advice of the great mythologist Joseph Campbell was to “Follow Your Bliss”, and this has become the keynote on The Alchemical Journey for the twelfth and final stage of our annual journey around the zodiac, as we enter the sign of Pisces on 18th February. Having journeyed around the wheel, starting with Aries last March, and experienced the elements of fire, earth, air and water in their cardinal, fixed and mutable expressions, it is with the mutable water sign that we conclude our adventure. And we finish not with a recognition of our personal achievement (we did that in Capricorn), but rather through transcending our personal identity, and allowing our much cherished egoic awareness to flow back into the great cosmic ocean. Pisces is represented by two fish tied together by a silver cord, a cord that carries deep memory and binds the material forever to the spiritual. When we enter through the gate of Pisces, we are confronted with the need to release attachments, let go of material concerns and enter a sublime realm of bliss, something that cannot be attained, acquired or coveted, but only surrendered to, like death. Pisces demands the temporary surrender of personal ambition and the safety of the well-reasoned mind, for bliss can never be experienced through rational means. Like the poet, lost in reverie for their muse, bliss comes as an enchantment capable of intoxicating us with a divine, more-than-human desire.

The experience of bliss sounds wonderful, of course, but it also carries inherent dangers for the unprepared. When it arrives suddenly through a “fatal” love attraction, a premature kundalini awakening, psychedelic initiation, or unexpected encounter with a faerie being or spiritual entity, we can easily lose our way, and neglect or reject the consensus reality that we experience on a daily basis. Without appropriate containment, the experience of bliss can completely derail us. When there is no anchor in the world, no path of alignment or orientation, then this ecstatic release of ego can destroy what we have, our relationships, our vocational path, everything we have worked for. The enchantment may lead us too wildly off our intended course, distracting us from our deeper purpose, path and commitment. It may become our “way” and we may become so consumed by the experience of bliss, that we completely lose touch with those around us.

"The Golden Bough" by Turner

The Roman hero, Aeneas, could only enter the underworld once he had located the golden bough, a golden-leafed branch from a particular cypress tree which ensured safe passage to the shadow realm. On The Alchemical Journey, the zodiac wheel serves a similar function, acting as the alembic that can hold and contain the sufferings and longings of the psyche as we journey into the imaginal kingdom, and giving us a map to navigate our way out of its labyrinthine halls. I have a Pisces ascendant and Mercury in Pisces rising in my chart, and I feel I know this perspective well. I have experienced intense bliss several times in my own life, sometimes through love or longing or loss and through occasional experiences of spiritual awakening. And these have always been periods of intense, transformational learning for me. As I’ve got older I’ve learned to handle them better, and found ways to experience the enchantment and taste the “elixir of life” without completely losing my way. The zodiac has been my greatest teacher, and my greatest anchor in that way. I have found that the wheel both facilitates the possibility of me experiencing bliss, yet it also helps to bring me back and re-orient myself again in the world with a transformed perspective.

Odysseus & the Sirens
The story of Odysseus and the Sirens really captures the spirit of the Piscean journey. I consider Odysseus to be the archetypal mythological hero of the Pisces perspective. Although Odysseus has the sympathy of most of the gods and goddesses, his journey home to Ithaca is thwarted time and again by Poseidon (Neptune), who claims the modern astrological rulership of Pisces. Poseidon whips up ferocious storms that continually blow the hero off course. (Odysseus angered the God of the Sea, when he put out the eye of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, who was Poseidon’s son). So Odysseus meets many trials on his journey home, and in each case he uses his famous wit to overcome these dangers. The most Piscean of his adventures is surely his encounter with the Sirens.

Odysseus and the Sirens

The Sirens are great enchantresses, they have bird-like forms with beautiful female heads and faces, and they resonate with the sweetest, most divine music such that even the strongest will cannot resist. When sailors pass by their island, they are invariably lured by the sirens call to their deaths and the shoreline is littered with the debris of ships that have crashed on the rocks there. But Odysseus, being the wily hero that he is, enacts a cunning plan to avoid this fate. Advised by Circe, he blocks the ears of his crew with beeswax, so they will not hear the sirens’ call, and instructs them to tie him to the mast of the ship, so that he will not be lured by them. He also tells them that each time he begs to be released, they should tighten his bounds, which they dutifully do.

The key to the story lies in the fact that Odysseus does not stuff his own ears with wax, for he must experience the bliss that they offer. He knows that it is an essential part of his own journey to hear the sirens call, to be driven half-mad with passion and desire, to give up the control of his mind and surrender himself to the divine muse. Odysseus, of all the heroes in Greek mythology, is the one most willing to learn, and most prepared to experience deep transformation. Yet he also has a clear mission – to return home to his beloved Ithaca, and his devoted wife, Penelope.

In past Pisces workshops, we sometimes enact the story as a piece of mystery theatre, and it always prompts us to enquire into how willing and prepared each of us are to surrender ourselves to bliss. We ponder the metaphorical significance of the mast to which Odysseus is strapped and how important it is to have a strong support as we enter into an altered state of consciousness – a strong anchor that can allow us to journey into unknown lands, and that has the strength of commitment to bring us back to our more familiar reality, and process the transformation. The maintenance of the container or alembic is crucial on The Alchemical Journey, and it is something that we pay great attention to.

Penelope

In our little mystery play, we will have someone playing Penelope, his wife, back on Ithaca, whose role in the Odyssey should never be underestimated. Penelope shares Odysseus’s cunning, and deflects the attentions of the many suitors who attempt to win her hand while her husband is away. She announces that she will only take a suitor when she has finished making a particular dress. So she weaves the dress during the day, and then unweaves the thread at night, so the dress is never finished. Symbolically, Penelope encapsulates the mutable dance of Virgo (the weaver) and Pisces (the unweaver), the two signs opposed in the zodiac, and I see her as the architect of the entire Odyssey, weaving together heaven and earth, somehow conducting the cosmic pattern of events that guide the narrative. As Odysseus’ extraordinary adventure unfolds it is the integrity of Peneolope’s weaving that gradually guides him home, while the unravelling chaos of her unweaving puts her in league with Poseidon and reflects the many twists and turns of the tale, through which Odysseus learns and transforms.

Pisces is the sign through which we can learn to transcend the struggles of duality through a deep acceptance that life is an eternal dance and we are part of that dance. Like a river flowing into an ocean, this perspective on the world invites us to loosen the reigns, accept what we cannot change and surrender the need for control – releasing and letting go of attachments, dancing the dance, experiencing the alchemy of bliss. Our Pisces workshop this year takes place on 24th February.

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