Interregnum periods are tough. They’re betwixt-between spaces that can leave you feeling unmoored. When you find yourself in an interregnum—whether as an individual or as part of the collective—it’s hard not to want to chew off all your fingernails and scream. What has been is no longer. What will be has not yet been born. The tension that builds between the opposites can feel like a living force, one that breathes down your neck ferociously. Most of us would rather strap on Mercury’s sandals and scoot rather than stay and get cooked.
Yet, as good readers of alchemy and Jung know, you can’t skip steps if you’re interested in individuation. You must pass through the interregnum’s no-man’s-land in which everything from your past has washed up on shore—the roads taken and not taken; the relationships had and not had; the choices made and not made; the dead buried and the undead. You must gaze at it all with clear eyes and take stock. Because it is here in the blackest of blacks, the nigrum nigrius nigro (CW 12, para 433), that sacred transformation unfolds.
Individuation is a private process. At times, it can feel joyful; more often, it can be painful. In this strange bardo, you are asked to consider your life in its entirety. Walking along the shore that sits between your conscious and unconscious, you must navigate through what Psyche has returned to you and pick through what you threw away a long time ago. Those unfelt things cough and sputter at your feet like silver fish. Widening your view, you see how the winds of the world have carved your sandstone soul…how the monsoons of your life have eroded what has kept you small. In the stilled sitting, it’s possible to distinguish the gradient of your own life and the songs it carries into your future.
Each of us roams the interregnum in a different way. Poet Adrienne Rich dove herself down into the wreck, “…I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail” (Diving Into the Wreck: Poems 1971-72). Jung launched himself into the unconscious after his break with Freud—a time when his own concentric circles of life were collapsing, “My soul…where are you? I have returned, here I am again. I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you again” (The Black Books, Vol. 2, p. 149). Thoreau had his cabin in the woods. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (Walden, 1854).
This is the alchemical power that lives in the interregnum. It is a birthing—the pushing through the first set of concentric circles that have ringed your life—and a thrusting into something new. Psyche is a kind midwife, and she knows where you’re going. Let her cut the cords holding you back with her sharp scythe. It’s okay to scream. It’s okay to kick and mourn and clench your eyes shut against the bright light of your future. It will wait until you’re ready to see the wideness of the world and its spectrum of possibilities.
Even butterflies first out of the chrysalis must wait for the sun to ready their wings. The sap is always slow to move after its winter sleep. No human soul can run after being born. It takes time to learn how to spiral around the holy fire at your center. Don’t fear the tears or the pain that comes with the first stages of the alchemical process—the putrefaction, dissolution, and separation. Stay with it. Conjunction is coming, but so is further blackening and decay. Allow it. Let the grief and pain lodged in your bones sweat their way through your tear ducts. Be patient in the discomfort. Soon, you will distill. The clarity will come, as will the reddening of the new dawn of your life. You’ll soon burst into the world with “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” (Dylan Thomas, 1952). This is a baptism, and it’s yours.
Kelly McGannon, M.A., M.A.R. is an executive leadership coach in private practice in the Washington D.C. Metro Area. She completed her graduate work in medieval art history and pilgrimage at Yale University Divinity School and Princeton University. She graduated from the JSW's Jungian Studies Reading Seminar in 2020.