March 20 is The Equinox and Ovid's 2057th birthday, a perfect day to look at a story of the balance of opposites.
This tale from book Four of Ovid's Metamorphosis gives one an opportunity to examine the concept of
"the Quintessence Glorified in its Own Body "*
Salmacis is a Nymph who lives in a wondrous woodland grotto, in which there is a bubbling, fountain-like spring that spurts from a rocky hillside crevice. The waters from the spring snake in a silvery ribbon across, and down, a velvet carpet of ever-blooming spring flowers, then spill joyously and ecstatically into a transparent pool of crystalline water. Salmacis treasures this pool and loves it with all her heart. Ovid tells us that her pool is, "crystal clear, right through to the bottom". The reader is told that an un-bruised ring of perfect green grass fringes the undisturbed water there.
Salmacis is an ultra-feminine woman who has no interest in hunting, fighting,
or aggressive activities. She delights in spending her days lounging around her pool, communicating with the flora and fauna.
Hermaphroditus is the son of Mercury and Venus (Hermes and Aphrodite). After a childhood of pleasures and ease, the very handsome young man sets out to explore the mortal world on his own. He stumbles upon the immaculate pool of Salmacis, and is mystified, and drawn close by its magnetism. Salmacis notices his arrival, and runs happily to greet him, overcome with exhilaration at the sight and sound of his heavenly resonance. She falls in love with him, compliments him, and tries to convince him to want her. Being young and unaware of earthly ways, he deeply blushes at her advances, but warns her to stay away. She backs off, but when he enters the waters of her pool, she dives in after him, and embraces him so strongly he cannot escape. During a struggling frenzy, the waters of the pool are churned, and the two merge together to become permanently as one. Thus the Hermaphrodite is born. As he leaves the pool in this new morphed state, he asks his mother, (the goddess Venus) to tincture the pool, so anyone else who enters the water will also become both man and woman.
This story is interesting because it is the only one in the Metamorphosis that features a female figure as an aggressive, possibly would be rapist, and the aggression is toward a God no less. Salmacis is technically not human, but she is mortal, one of a sort of "fish race". She does not rape Hermaphroditus,
but she is overcome with desire to basically get back inside him. She has a memory of a form closer to Source perspective, and she struggles to express it. (this brings to mind the alchemical words of the salty and glutenous Eagle, who, before conjoining says, "I am weakened from being separate, drink me, and become white".) Salmacis refers to Hermaphroditus as being 'like ivory' at least twice in the narration. ( I understand this as a reference to the white rib of Adam, a source of marrow and DNA.) When Salmacis flatters Hermaphroditus, his ivory white skin "reddens" (this refers to alchemical sulfurous secretions in the process of solve et coagula). She is entranced by his arms, "like pure white lilies encased in transparent crystal",
another reference to cell structure and electromagnetism.
The rib bone, the blush stained ivory, the white lilies encased in crystal are all metaphors for DNA information codes concerning earthly and ethereal existence.
At the climax of the merging of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, the newly formed she-male asks his Mother(Love) to tincture the pool(the unconscious) so that all who enter will emerge as both male and female. His Father is Mercury, which represents movement, change, creative arts. Upon diving deep into the pool of the unconscious, through love and creativity one is made Whole.
On a simpler level Ovid's story of the Pool of Salmacis is a warning to the average male reader to never, ever let a woman have advantage over you or else you will lose your masculinity. This is reflected in the behavior of most men who will only become 'just so" close to a woman before fleeing in fear of becoming too empathetic or too sensitive. Once the merging of the divine feminine and the divine masculine happens, there will be no more wars, no more horrific violence, and many men cannot grasp this notion. On another level this story is saying that men have a choice; to merge with the woman in the alembic vessel of transformation, and receive the gift of feminine receptivity and magnetism; or to get just close enough to breed and handle a woman, and live with a program that says "it is completely natural for men to want to fight." Men of the latter persuasion compare themselves to the bull stags of the forest who will fight to the death for their hierarchical positions, with no wisdom or discernment.
Today there is a powerful trend towards the reawakening of the transgender human. For centuries the true hermaphrodite has lived as a treasured shamanic gift to the people of many indigenous cultures, particularly Indonesia and Thailand. Thank fully, now Europeans and Americans are learning to honor these special people as perfect in their own right, and also to accept and honor those who wish to physically alter their genders, and merge with their opposite, after birth. Thanks to the modern chemistry of drugs and the artistry of plastic surgery, the Pool of Salmacis has become a reality of sorts. According to Alchemical philosophy the merging of salt and sulfur (male and female) is done only with the catalyst actions of love and mercury through the medium of Spirit. Physical bodies may be grafted like trees, but the change is never complete. The scars will always show, and the two fruits, tho growing on the same tree, remain distinctly different. The Transgender phenomenon is fascinating to me, and I look forward to researching much more deeply this new awakening of non-duality in the human day to day existence.
*see the Ripley Scroll