Distillation and Death

Distillation and Death

Our goat Estrella passed at the end of bloom when the young grapes were bebe-sized, just before the Mariposa tulips popped into appearance. I told the vet that Estrella had to have help arriving, born by Cesarean, and that now she had to have help leaving. She was in too much distress; it was clear a catastrophic event was in process.
She was a small goat and she lay trustingly on my lap. Grief was thick as the vet calmly examined her, explained the procedure, and administered the poison that would move Estrella from this world into the next. We then laid her in the straw and the goats came one by one, saying goodbye. Anna, born two days before her 12 years ago, stayed with her for some time. For several days I felt the vacuum. It has lightened enough for me to write.

Estrella and her brother Libra were born in the early hours of my birthday. Her mother Natalie’s labor had stopped as Donald and I rushed her to the vet’s office as she watched traffic, a tiny, white goat leg sticking out of her. I always felt a special connection with Estrella. Children made her ridge rise. She didn’t like strangers; she loved being petted by those adults she knew.

I wonder how many animals die everyday on our ranch, food for something else? They go unmourned. What is it about those we mourn? What does mourning signify? Is there a consciousness-building involved? After all, the evolution of consciousness and of religion is connected to rituals around death.

Alchemical distillations pictures come to mind. There are series in various alchemical manuscripts where a dove dives up and down, over and over, for pages even, and slowly something forms. The De summa¬†manuscript (Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal, Paris) is one example. Throughout the various operations “the eternal process of transmigration or sublimation is symbolized by the flight of the dove upwards and downwards.” In the end is the “exaltation of the Quintessence.”

From The Secret Art of Alchemy, by Stanislas Llossowski De Rola

Primo Levi said that the difference in distillation in chemistry and in alchemy is that in chemistry one is working for the pure substance. In alchemy, once the pure substance is separated, that the impure is put back in and the process repeated. The object is not purity but training matter in the process (The Periodic Table).

I have come to think of the cycles of death and rebirth in this way as well, whether that be in our everyday lives of things falling apart and then being redone, or in the larger cycle of birth and death and birth and death, on and on. Perhaps that is Estrella’s parting gift to me: this rethinking of the distillation of life and resulting the formation of the stone of the human soul. Mourning sharpens our attention to it.