The Alchemical Opus of Lady May

Alchemy Complete Series_low res w: text.jpg
Alchemy Complete Series_low res w: text.jpg

The Alchemical Opus of Lady May


The whole alchemical opus in one poster, with titles for each phase of the process.

Paper Type: Lexjet Semi-Matte
Paper size: 16 x 19 in.
Image size: 14 x 17 in.

*Orders for the poster will begin shipping the week of December 17th

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Lady May: The Holy Hawthorn

There is hardly a more enchanting tree than the Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha and C. monogyna). Growing up to 30 or 40 feet high, the hawthorn is in the rose family and has sharp thorns and deeply-lobed leaves, with a profusion of small white blossoms that appear in early summer (May-June). These five-petaled, rose-like flowers form in flat-topped clusters and mature into bright red berries, called “haws,” in late summer. Also known as May, Quickthorn, Motherdie, Whitethorn, May-tree, Thornapple, and Haw, the hawthorn tree can grow up to 400 years old and exudes a holy, ethereal radiance. Whether it’s growing in thick and tangled groves, planted as hedgerows, or standing alone in a woodland meadow, the elegant long limbs of the May tree command attention and respect. The hawthorn was considered to be an entrance to the Underworld in Gaelic folklore, and the Irish know the hawthorn as “the fairy tree.” In the Christian tradition whitethorn is one of the trees suggested to be the source of the crown of thorns. They are often found growing near holy wells where people decorate them with ribbons and other offerings. The sanctified nature of hawthorn, and its association with the faeries, has led to a general belief that it is unlucky to cut or uproot.

The Alchemical Seasons of Hawthorn

Nigredo - Winter - Shadow Work

In winter, the bare and thorny branches of the Hawthorn guard the secrets of the nigredo (blackness) and the entrance to the underworld. In Creative Alchemy, the nigredo represents the darkness of the initial confrontation with the ego. Alchemical imagery depicts this phase by scenes of death, skeletons, ravens, coffins, or the black sun. It is most closely related to the earth element, the planet Saturn, and the metal lead. The nigredo can manifest as depression, sadness, and general suffering in the face of life’s difficulties. It is the “dark night of the soul” where we come face to face with our personal role in the circumstances of our life. Becoming self-aware is the first step on the path to self-mastery. As long as we have not confronted our own shadow, we will be obscured by its unconscious manifestation in our lives.

As last year’s remaining haws shrivel upon their stems, we descend into the quickthorn thickets to confront our shadow aspects. We experience the depressive, anxious, and negative thought patterns that are choking out the other potential seeds waiting to grow. Through this fearless confrontation with these parts of ourselves, we allow the thorns to pierce us through the heart so we are ready to let go of the illusions that limit our expression in the world. The serpent, who sheds its skin in the process of letting go and renewal, embraces us tenderly to guide us through the process.

Albedo - Spring - Purification

Spring light returns to illuminate our Hawthorn tree, as the proud and deeply cut leaves emerge from long graceful shoots, and soon the branches are draped in the delicate lace of the Mayblossoms, the veil of Flor-Aphrodite. This is the albedo, holy flowers blushing with whispers of the fruit to come, inviting us to purify our minds of conditioning by opening our hearts. These rose-like flowers are hermaphroditic, containing both the male and female parts brought together in the coniunctio. As they mature, they begin emitting a signature deathly odor reminiscent of decaying flesh, which attracts certain insects that inadvertently pollinate the flowers while looking for the decaying matter to lay their eggs in. Through this pungent trait the Hawthorn tree has earned an association with death, and serves to remind us that the union of opposites in alchemy (the hermaphroditic flowers) also corresponds to a death or sacrifice that is necessary before we can find our way out of suffering and into the Permanent Rose Garden. To bring these beautiful white flowers into the home is an invitation for death, but it is the death of the “lesser self” and not the physical self that we are concerned with. From this act of letting go, the soul, or the “higher self,” is born within the body. In this way we become sanctified, protected by divine right to remain in truth as a tree with its roots in heaven. 

There’s an old Scottish saying: “Ne’er cast a cloot til Mey’s oot,” which means to wait until the “Meys,” or hawthorns, are “oot”—in full bloom—before casting away any clothes (cloot). This corresponds to the month of May when the hawthorns bloom. On another level, this alludes to the albedo as the “superficial awakening” that occurs in the process of remembering the true, original nature, but there is more work to be done for this realization to be fully integrated, for there are still many obstructions and layers of conditioning to be removed.

Citrinitas - Summer - Gestation

Romancing us in May light, hawthorn drops her white veil as the fire of summer intensifies, the mayflowers fading and falling away as the nascent yellow-green bodies of the haws (hawthorn berries) form. This in-between stage of the immature green berries relates to the citrinitas, the yellowing or xanthosis which is equated with a process of ripening, waiting, and receiving the inspiration from the gold of the sun, the pure awareness that is free from impurities and mental conditions.

Rubedo - Autumn - Completion

The completion of the alchemical opus is known as the rubedo, or reddening. It is the red of the setting sun and the Autumn harvest, when the hawthorn berries (“haws”) are fully ripe. These red pome-fruits are the medicine of liberation through knowledge of the self, discovered through direct and objective observation of the body and mind. To eat her fruit is to remember her rhythm in our heart, serpentine and sattvic, and with it we wind back to source, through vessels and capillaries opened and flowing with prana, as our consciousness is ripened to completion by the gold of the sun.  

The rubedo is the final reconciliation of opposites that frees us from the endless pendulum swing. All of the traumas and conditioned responses we were carrying have been completely dissolved and are now reintegrated on a higher level, ready to be transformed into something new on a physical level. Inseparable from the cosmos, we become the hub of the wheel, the immovable center, forever fixed in the heart of the sun. This is the royal marriage, the Hierosgamos of the Red King and the White Queen merging into completion, beyond inner opposition.