One of the symptoms of severe depression is a “loss of meaning.” Activities and goals that once seemed urgent, suddenly appear trivial, transparent as ghosts. The world starts to feel immaterial. Nothing matters. Although the body feels heavy, as if made of led, the purpose and function of ordinary material things feel vaporous. Interacting with the material world – doing dishes, taking a shower, walking the dog or cleaning one’s office – becomes confusing and overwhelming.
This is the weight of The Black Sun, which hangs dark and leaden, warping the horizon and poisoning the sky.
However, unlike neurochemical depression, for which we take drugs, or depression of cognition and behavior, for which we have short-term talk-therapy, what I am experiencing now is melancholy.
Melancholy is an uncanny state of mind, in which the meaning falls away from things, and a different kind of meaning – metaphorical and numinous – fills the empty space. It’s as if the usual daytime sunlight has darkened, but under the weird illumination of The Black Sun, familiar household objects shimmer with mysterious symbolism.
For example, yesterday, as I walked outside to my office in the backyard, I was struck by the sense of being out of synch, not “at home,” even spooked.
Then looked across my backyard…
In a sea of green grass and leaves all lit up by late afternoon sunlight there were, hidden in shadow, three purple flowers that gave off an otherworldly glow.
All at once, I had a sense of vertigo and awe, as if I were glimpsing some secret that runs deep beneath the ground of commonplace objects. I can’t say what that secret is, or what these flowers “meant.” The flowers were just numinous.
nu·mi·nous/ˈn(y)o͞omənəs adjective: having a strong religious, spiritual, or mysterious quality; suggesting the presence of a divinity.
Numinous comes from the Latin word numen, meaning “divine will” or “nod.” It suggests a figurative nodding, of assent or of command, of the divine head. English speakers have been using numen for centuries with the meaning “a spiritual force or influence.”
I myself an atheist, and I do not believe in the supernatural, as such. Yet, when I looked at those flowers, something nodded. So at times like those, I feel like a closet mystic. My experience melancholy becomes an altered state of consciousness in which hidden forces and occult meanings radiate from within the utterly mundane.
To be clear, when other people use the word “numinous,” they usually mean something like this…
Whereas, when I use numinous I am usually freaking out at something seemingly humdrum, like this…
As another example, early this morning I sat on the couch, my head hanging like a sack filled with wet sand.
However, I looked up at my front door, and through the little window, I could see the sunlit trees whipped by gusts of wind. The little patch of green pulsed and swelled like a green-tentacled anemone in an aquarium.
As I stared, that same sense of vertigo, dread, and wonder welled up in my chest. The front door, the window, and the tree beyond it, all of which I’ve seen daily for twenty years, suddenly were alien, unfamiliar, and WEIRD.
For me, the window was no longer just a literal window; it was a metaphor glowing with thousands of meanings and connections. Its semi-circular shape was a half-sun, the bars were like rays, and the shape doubled in my mind…
…momentarily becoming a SUN, fiery and unrelenting.
As I will write in my next blog, the “sun” is an oppressive symbol for me. It evokes tyranny, oppression, and death.
However, the window was not an ordinary sun, it was The Black Sun, the symbol I have been exploring in recent blogs.
As a Black Sun, the window felt not like an oppressive fire, but as a kind of portal – a window to another way of seeing.
As I stared at The Black Sun, I felt I could see beyond the dark bars into a rich landscape of pattern and meaning that was always there but hidden behind the stultifying familiarity and habit: the ordinary door, the ordinary window, and the ordinary tree branches bobbing in the ordinary wind. Now it had transformed; it was the ordinary numinous – a window lit up by the eerie rays of melancholy.
So, the Black Sun is not religious or supernatural. It is mystical in the way that a Platonic understanding of mathematics can be mystical. By that I mean… if mathematics is “the formal study of pattern” and if those abstract patterns (like pi, imaginary numbers, and transfinite sets) exist as real-yet-immaterial facts that we discover about the world, then The Black Sun is the poetic counterpoint. Just as there are circles and derivatives that describe the patterns of material objects with spooky accuracy (see The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences), there is an eerie network of non-material metaphors, patterns, and signs that run like roots beneath our familiar names: “Door.” “Tree.” “Window.” A network revealed and electrified by melancholy.
Have I lost you yet?
Anyway. This is all a way of saying that when you start looking into The Black Sun, ordinary shit gets WEIRD.