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The Winter Season as Alchemical Distillation

Consider the allegory that agriculture can pose for psychoanalysis. During summer, the farmer is at their prime peak of physical exertion, mental coordination, and the constraints that stem from time management—the greater the farmer can compound his efforts in these fronts and more, the more amenities and comforts he will have allowed himself during the times that his efforts are futile. The autumn season is the adjustment, surely, and the time for the farmer to harvest and gather his resources, and shift his physical and mental necessities towards an entirely different component of life: winter. With winter, the farmer has reaped what he has sewn, and judging by the efforts taken during the summer, his efforts in winter will not necessarily be easier (for winter bears its own climatized difficulties) but the farmer will have maintained the faculties necessary to sustain him during a time when his efforts must be taken from the complex mechanisms of culture, and deeper into his mind and into a state of survival.

While efforts toward survival may be certainly lessened during the winter thanks to modern technology, and the rush of the summer-time is often not as desperate thanks to modern economic conventions, but certainly the human being still has become acquainted with the pitfalls of these contemporary cultural achievements, and thus maintains their own energetic patterns of environmental interaction during states of weather that can vary intensely.

Additionally, for all the people who have maintained lifestyles outside of harsh winterized climates (this loose definition catching anything from the Windy City to Scandinavia and climates in between), this lack of dramatic change in the seasonal climate is equally telling of a person’s character. Surely, this is not to say that human sociology can be predicted with weather patterns—but no one, especially someone who has worked in the retail or restaurant industries, can deny that there is naturally more social interaction on a sunny day than there is a rainy day—equally, the seasons can be seen as categories of social exchange rates amongst society and/or culture.

From the esoteric perspective, these were some of the empirical foundations of ancient astrology, which modern astrology tends to veer so very far away from, and this was also considered a fundamental aspect in the decision of where a human soul would decide to reincarnate. Even in classical empirically-based numerology and astrology (and for those who doubt, there really is such a thing) longitudes and latitudes play important calculative roles in understanding the data represented innately by the individual.

A person cannot gain anything from classical astrology, numerology, or tarot unless they understand the scientific, cymatic, Pythagorean notion of mathematical manifestation—the perfect example being mathematic equations that create music. There are certain patterns that can transcend set planes of expression, and arts like these three, and especially astrology, have much less to do with literal daily calculations of planets and electromagnetic energies, et cetera, and more so to do with what a human being can decipher from taking an entirely objective perspective to the classical and empirical symbols that innately formulate the equations of their life circumstances, and coalesce to produce the rhythm of their existence.

This focus on translation of symbolism, with astrology as example, is one reason why there are multiple cultural disciplines of astrology, such as Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, Chinese, et cetera. Follow the traditional Mystery Schools, and the Iniatic Rites of Asia and elsewhere, and one will naturally find a complex set of astrological calculation, symbolism, and interpretation. This is also why it is often recommended by esotericists that a student settle on the study of astrology that stems from the culture they have been grown in. Astronomy is the physical calculations of celestial bodies, and astrology is the symbolic, socio-cultural interpretation of the patterns of these celestial bodies in order to glean the deeper socio-cultural understandings from the intrinsic patterns of nature that innately shape every human being. After all, the great debate between “Nature versus Nurture” has long since been settled, even in the slow-to-adapt scientific community, has been settled as an undeniably important combination of the two.

To take some verses from the Bible (lest we not forget that the Old Testament was written by initiated Kabbalists aware of the esoteric sciences of numerology, astrology, and tarot, and were the keepers of the Kabbalist Tree of Life):

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?  I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastics 3:1-11

Bringing this back down to the consideration of winter, take into account the scientific efficacy of cold, often freezing temperatures, to control isolates in chemistry.

Now consider the poem entitled Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening , by Robert Frost:

Whose woods these are I think I know.   

His house is in the village though;   

He will not see me stopping here   

To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   

To stop without a farmhouse near   

Between the woods and frozen lake   

The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   

To ask if there is some mistake.   

The only other sound’s the sweep   

Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   

But I have promises to keep,   

And miles to go before I sleep,   

And miles to go before I sleep.

With alchemy as a psychosomatic allegory for purification of the self, winter as illustrated by Frost’s poem, is truly an alchemical distillation to the human being in the way the freezing temperatures aid chemistry in the aforementioned sense. Winter is one of Mother Nature’s ultimate morals to the story, as in, the individual truly learns their “worth in salt,” to use an old adage, when winter hits. Not only are they given an unfiltered and unavoidable assessment of their use of time and resources during their fruitful times in life, but they are met with this sort of socio-cultural control temperature that helps guide the human mind inward, into a contemplative state—if they are not busy surviving, that is, which can also be seen as a reflection of the person’s inward state (or lack thereof, in some cases). Even this “state of survival” of winter, though, can bring about this sort of mental distillation and purification, as anyone who has been on a long camping trip or hiking adventure by themselves can attest to.

It is with this line of thought that the winter season takes on its much deeper, nuanced, symbolic definition. Taking the physical winter season out of the equation, winter symbolizes or represents that state of psychotherapeutic “distillation” of a person’s thoughts, which often occurs by channeling inspiration out of a painful event, such as the loss of a loved one or any form of lingering PTSD, et cetera. (See this article for more details.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, “Winter Dreams,” provides a fairly brief, entertaining, and very poignant illustration of this metaphor of winter throughout the trials and tribulations of life, and what it takes to turn this strife and “state of survival” that winter can bring, into a state of distillation and eventual purification of the mind.

It is simply a fact of life that most, if not all the best answers are found when “reading between the lines;” which is to say, the context of a situation often holds the most valuable information. Mother Nature’s seasons, especially winter, are no different.


Anthony Tyler
A journalist and author from Anchorage, Alaska, Anthony Tyler aims to twist the knife in both phony new-age ideals and scientific materialism by drawing attention to the rich heritage of esoteric science throughout history. Far from being “satanist,” the esoteric (i.e. occultism or comparative religion) marks the beginning of mathematics, astronomy, psychology, medicine, and even politics. Esoteric science represents a cache of little-known knowledge detailing how to decipher the human's unconscious mind--and the unconscious mind is essentially everything that the human mind is not considering at any given moment.

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