The Green Lion Devouring the Sun
The green lion devouring the Sun is an ancient motif of alchemy. Contrary to the imaginations of many people, alchemists were not failed chemists. Rather, they were explorers of not only the chemical properties and reactions of substances but also practitioners of a sophisticated psychological art. Its goal was the total transformation of the personality into an agent of the divine. Later, C. G. Jung incorporated the methods, archetypes, and symbols of alchemy into his system of analytical psychology. In effect, he viewed alchemy as the yoga of the West. In this piece, I will share my meditations upon this alchemical symbol.
The Sun is a symbol of the ego. Shining and brilliant, it feels entitled that all else should revolve around it. Lo, there comes the green lion to devour it. The green lion, as king of beasts, represents the instincts. In this image, we witness an encounter of the ego with the instinctive, primal forces within us. We fear our instincts and know them to be dangerous, so we repress them. Civilization is an enterprise seeking to repress our instincts in exchange for peace and comfort. Much of this process is positive, but it has become inwardly weak, ignoring our inner experiences and separating us from our instincts to a detrimental degree. In our dangerous nature, there lies a power that can propel us forward.
The image corresponds to the releasing of primordial essence. That is why the lion is green, which is a primordial, unripe color. It also connotates fecundity. Eating the sun symbolizes the dominance of the Ego by instinctual forces. It is the beginning of a return to a more natural psychological state in which human beings flourish.
The ego perceives the encounter as terrifying because all transformational processes appear to be a kind of death to the ego. However, this process is the catalyst for an encounter with the Self. The instincts are amoral relative to human society and culture. Social conditioning aims to keep the instincts in check until the Higher Self is adequately present. Once present, our attitudes and feelings will be conditioned and directed by the Self. Otherwise, we experience a regression to the animalistic nature.
In the background, there is a new sun emerging from the waters. It is the new personality emerging from the encounter. The old Sun, having been killed by the lion, needs a replacement in the form of a new, resurrected Sun. Water is a feminine symbol and thus associated with the unconscious. Ultimately, all that we are emerges from the oceans of the unconscious, and our egos are but a bobbing cork on its waves. It is the unconscious that creates new patterns and modes of operation for the ego.
We see seven red stars in an arc through the lion’s body. This evokes correspondence to the seven chakras, which would have been known as the seven inner metals to the alchemists or the seven interior planets to the kabbalists. Here, they align with the instincts, initiating the destruction of the current personality and providing the raw material for its rebirth. Further discussion concerning this bit of symbolism is outside the scope of this meditation.
This image is the first stage. Eventually, the green lion must evolve into the red lion. Fearsome and matured, the red lion has come into the fullness of its power. The instincts, now ripe, become a fountain of libido, propelling the personality to new heights and revealing undiscovered realms within. Finally, the lion becomes the golden, old lion. At this stage of development, the instincts are fully sublimated in service to the Self.
Each of us must have such an encounter if we are to individuate. We must access the terrifying primal presence within the wilderness of our psyche. The encounter is a kind of death. It is a confrontation against the truth that the ego is neither the sole occupant of our minds nor ultimately who we are. It is simply the role we currently play. As we navigate into the inner wilderness, the savagery found there is a valid part of us, and once set in service to a higher power, it becomes a fountain of potential and possibility.