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Rainer Maria Rilke, Dostoyevsky, alchemy, nigredo, albedo, rubedo, madness, and mysticism

excerpted from THE WAY OF WONDER: a return to the mystery of ourselves, by Jack Haas




“This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual,

most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.”

Rainer Maria Rilke



             It is a fine line, a razor’s edge, between mysticism and madness. Yet whether the experience of suddenly awakening to the all-pervasive mystery of life- and to our own astoundingly comprehensive ignorance- leads the individual to the rapture of a god-intoxicated saint, to the tortured bottom of a whisky bottle, or to a life of lonely isolation- it is more or less the same experience, and is altered simply by the way in which it is dealt with: whether a person falls down in fright and nausea, or instead finds their ‘sea legs’ and learns to move with the rhythm of infinity.

It is my contention that this experience of incomprehension (which Wilson’s outsiders found to be grounds for melancholy, madness, escapism, or suicide) is not an inherently tragic experience, but is, in fact, essential to the development of the higher self; we escape the confines of the limited life through the porthole of absurdity, and there we find not an event which misleads us out of life, but one that returns us truly and finally to life, and therefore is not worthy of despair but ...of exaltation.



“The world is not only stranger than we suppose,

 it is stranger than we can suppose.”

J.B.S. Haldane



In Dostoyevsky’s book The Idiot, Prince Myshkin details the evolution of his undoing- from confusion, to suffering, to ecstasy: “...I’d experienced a series of bad and agonizing grew worse...the fits came on several times in succession, I fell into a state of utter stupefaction, with complete loss of memory. Though my reason wasn’t effected, the course of my logical thinking was interrupted, as it were, I couldn’t connect more than two or three consecutive ideas. That’s the impression I have retained. When the fits abated...I was in a state of unbearable melancholy, I remember; I was actually on the verge of tears all the time, in constant dismay and anxiety, and I was terribly effected by it all being so alien to me- that much I realized. The foreignness of it was crushing. [But] I emerged from my depression... I began to recover rapidly. Then each day grew more precious to me, and the passage of each new day made it all the more precious, so that I couldn’t help noticing the fact. I would go to bed very pleased with the day, and awake the next morning feeling even happier. It would be very hard to say why that was so. ...At such moments I felt something calling me into the distance, and it would seem that if I were to walk straight ahead for a long, long time, and cross that distant line where the earth and sky met, I would find the key to everything and at once behold a new life a thousand times more thrilling and vibrant than ours.”

Myshkin is speaking, unknowingly perhaps, of a sublime process- the alchemical transmutation of the gross ore of consciousness into the pure gold. This shift, according to the terminology of alchemy, is the movement from the nigredo to albedo to rubedo.


excerpted from:


way of wonder, sacred geometry, sri yantra



THE WAY OF WONDER: a return to the mystery of ourselves

by Jack Haas

author Jack Haas, Canadian, American writer, artist, photographer

















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