Rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno ("A rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan")
Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (Juvenal), Satires
The Roman poet, Juvenal, concocted the rhetoric above in order to refer to inherent fragility of any system of thought. A black swan was in the poet’s time thought not to exist – thereby a paradigm of the exclusive whiteness of swans was extant. To encounter one would be in an instant to destroy this paradigm, along with any theories attendant on a concept now rendered fallacious. In a contemporary adjunct to this idea, Nassim Nicholas Taleb has used the term to describe paradigm-altering phenomena which appear to come, as it were, ‘out of the blue’. Importantly, these are also phenomena which might, in hindsight, have been predicted.
How, then, might the Seeker alloy the concept of the Black Swan with the body of knowledge that facilitates their own Magnum Opus? In order to address this question, it is pertinent first to discuss some of the other symbology attached to our avian subject and that which in this work surrounds it.
The bird’s domain is the air, and in alchemical symbology it is thus said to mediate between the earthly world and the realms of heaven – therefore also between base and ascended consciousness, between matter and spirit. This dichotomous relationship is reinforced in the swan by the nature of its long, sinuous neck, which recalls the feathered serpent; the golden chain about its neck is also a symbol of the tethering-together of these two aspects of being. It is for this reason that we see both ground and sky reflected in the bird's wings - and in a yet further redoubling of this metaphor, we here observe the swan positioned between the pillars of Boaz and Jachin:
Boaz: The physical body (the downward-pointing triangle), lunar, feminine, here wrought of polished green marble to recall the feminine sea.
Jachin: Spiritual nature (the upward-pointing triangle), solar, masculine, here containing within the phallic Flesh of the Gods by which the Seeker may glimpse the realm of spirit.
These twin pillars are said to have stood at either side of the entrance to Solomon’s Temple – and so, amongst the incredible multiplicity of esoteric meanings attached to them (the above being but a small taste), they also represent a portal to spiritual mystery, through which the swan is here seen to be passing. Beyond the building of earthly stone in which it stands, is the sky. We might even see the swan as the third pillar, which symbolizes the balanced, conscious, coordinating principle that keeps the others in dynamic equilibrium. As is this pillar, the swan is therefore the path of knowledge and ascension that leads to the unified source of all manifestation of which the two main pillars are polarized versions.
The Seeker’s path is a quest to synthesise the knowledge of, and become a manifestation of, all that the Black Swan represents. Is it any wonder to us that in heraldry, the swan is representative of poetic harmony and learning, or a lover thereof, and also of light, love, grace, sincerity, and perfection?
The Black Swan, therefore, is an image of the Seeker: lo, it is a mirror upon which you gaze!
And of the concepts of Juvenal and Taleb? Well, upon the path to swanhood, the Seeker shall find today’s paradigms crumbling all around. But these discoveries shall all be Black Swans, for truly they are already known to us in that innate way that we call intuition.
Flesh of the Gods