The alchemical term nigredo means black or blackening, and is associated with decomposition and putrefaction. As a psychological state, nigredo is “the great suffering and grief” which the detached forces of nature inflict on the soul.
We realize in sorrow that what we thought were truths were illusory. Individuals may have taken pride in their virtues, talents or good fortune; societies may have touted their cultural superiority, military prowess, or wealth. When we are stripped of easy beliefs, we have no defense against the desolation of nigredo.
But as surely as a seed releases its urge to life underground, blackness is also a place of incubation. Jung states, “Everything psychic is pregnant with the future.” Our task is “to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there find germs of light and recovery” from which new life will come.
“I was arriving to a commotion in a beautiful open-space garden beside the university building where I graduated. As I was approaching the crowd, I wondered who it was that everyone were so excited about. I was carrying a sort of notebook and was wearing a sort of girly school outfit that indicated that I was a student again. I was surprised to see a slender gay man who was topless and with a floral headpiece dancing in a circular motion or like he was just so free and flowing and everyone was hoping he would notice them. He was dancing backed up by 3-4 women with floral crowns and white flow-y gowns. He was just so fluid and beautiful. Then he looked at me. And I knew he liked me. When his dance was finished and everybody had left, he came to me and said hi. And then, we kissed. It was a deep and profound kiss; I have never been kissed that way. With our tongues doing the talking, we communicated to each other. He told me, ‘Why are you so sad?’ I said I was afraid. Then I woke seeing my sleeping baby beside me.”
Edinger, Edward. Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy (Amazon).