As the veil between life and death thins and winter’s dark cloak starts to draw itself in around us, something stirs in the muddy fields, murky streams and lost woods of the Somerset countryside. A menacing claw reaching out from beyond the threshold of the Fosseway and a scorpion’s sting unleashed through a pointed church spire at West Lydford; as a warning call of immanent submersion echoes from a decaying tower in Hornblotton, the “Horn Blower’s Town”, whose impressive church mural tells the story of a brazen serpent.
But what is this figure that moves enigmatically around the eastern edge of our Zodiac? Katharine Maltwood offered us a rather unconvincing scorpion, its still half-submerged body later developed by Mary Caine, who added a leg and another claw to give it a little more form. Yet Robert Coon and Serena Roney-Dougal both saw an eagle, a traditional symbol of Scorpionic transformation.
Personally, I find it perfectly appropriate that both scorpion and eagle should co-exist here in this shadowy realm of the zodiac that embraces both death (the scorpion’s sting) and spiritual re-birth (the eagle’s flight) within its alchemical scope. We are reminded of both creatures continually on our trail, like the pool of rather stagnant water that could mark the third eye of the scorpion, or the impressive eagle that crowns a nearby summer house at Hornblotton Hall.
I find walking in the Scorpio figure in late October / early November to be one of the most deeply moving experiences of the year in our pilgrimage around the Glastonbury Zodiac. This landscape carries a darkness about it that is eerily compelling, and I feel this particularly strongly as we cross into a small woodland at Alford near the curiously named Brueclay Mountain. The plunging River Blue meanders through the trees like the Styx, as we walk mindfully across its rickety bridges through an imaginal underworld.
It seems to me that Scorpio is the phase of the zodiacal wheel that we prefer to ignore in western culture, as we all too often fail to acknowledge our own shadows, or deal with our waste; turning away from decay and death, unable to integrate their poignant lessons into our daily lives. Instead we create unsustainable ideological structures based on perpetual growth and increase, which break the essential life cycle of transformation, and pile up toxic debts for ourselves and the planet.
Our task on The Alchemical Journey this month is to welcome the shadow and to allow its voice to be heard, responding to the seasonal cue that nature offers us, and enabling our own darkness to be felt and transformed. Jung said that shadow is pure gold, and through heeding Scorpio’s call, we may be able to tap the true wealth that lies buried within the deepest, and often most authentic, aspect of our nature.
This phase of the year teaches me the importance of learning to die well, so that I might be able to live more fully, relinquish my dependence upon what I already know and have the courage to face that which I may once have feared. It also confirms something for me about the true nature of alchemy. Far from attempting to control nature and bend it to human will, the true alchemist is always seeking to submit himself to nature’s power and mystery. Through practice, she learns to transform the hard shell of the human ego, and might thus be granted access to that liminal realm between worlds and experience the very common ground that we share with plant, animal and rock.
You can join us this month on The Alchemical Journey for our Scorpio weekend workshop, The Alchemy of Desire, Shadow & True Gold, on Sun 27th October.