I begin with Bet’s figures because Bet occupies a privileged place in all of the assemblages of double letters. It is the first letter after Alef and it gives shelter to the first letter and through its relationship to the other doubles begins the process of differentiation in creation. Carcer and Conjunctio bear witness to Bet’s character and it is from that character they arise and to which they return. In that movement of going and returning, they develop a network of affiliations which develop and modulate that character.
In the planetary circuit, Bet precedes all of the doubles but firstly Gimel. In the sequence of the week, it is the Sabbath, the bezel and treasure mounted in the series of days, between Pe and Kaf. Upon the plane of orifices that constitute the face, it is the left nostril and with Tav is the secret to the regulation of the vital breath. Within the Tree of Life, it is the highest double, crowned with Keter on the central pillar and resting upon Tifaret. Carcer and Conjunctio accompany it in all of its operations.
Beginning with Bet’s generation of the Saturnian potency in the planetary circuit, in the constitution of an inside and outside, leads us into the play of astrology, astronomy, alchemy, and chemistry. The birth of planets and stars bear witness to the vitality and dynamism of matter, of the interactions of particles to form bodies simple and complex, and in so doing differentiate one point in space from another. While we may speak of a void (Carcer) at the heart of all things from atoms to stars, we must also acknowledge these interactions that cut through the void and burst into a numberless panoply (Conjunctio).
The astrological dimensions of these signs are many. As the figures of Saturn, they define and rule over the essence of the planetary world. In Carcer we find the figure of the planet qua planet, planet as an individual turned on itself with its own internal dynamics and possessing a characteristic subtle emission (e.g., the earthiness of the Earth finds its source in Saturn’s mysteries). In Conjunctio the interaction of the planets are born, with their influences mingling to produce the subtle spiritual effects associated with the planets. Those interactions (squares, trines, oppositions, sextiles, etc.) form a network.
Under this astrological dimension, we find the foundation for magical operations derived from sympathy. The signs of Saturn are the signs of magic par excellance, the signs speaking to the possibility of influence through seemingly invisible cords/chords of sympathetic relationships. This astrological aspect underpins the development of individuality prior to any effort to identify and give name to it. The individuality of the planets, but also of specific and singular beings of all sort, from this rock to this tree to this person. In the human sphere, Carcer gives voice to the complex realities folded into our subjectivity, many of which are not immediately available for reflection. Conjunctio, in turn, gives voice to all the reactions between people at this level, the judgments and desires that form unbidden.
The trail of chemical concepts at the heart of the European name Conjunctio leads us to see Saturn’s central place in the (al)chemical as well as the astrological. Carcer is the fixed and seemingly static substance transformed by the introduction of the active agent Conjunctio. The two together are both the individual substances, their interaction, and the results that settle out from their combination. To underline the astrological resonance of this, it is as Saturn that the system of planets is delineated as such (Carcer) from the cosmos around it and subject to transformation played out within that system (Conjunctio). The play of concealing nature and discovering scientist is found in center of this articulation of Saturn.
Carcer, as both the stable substance in the beginning and the new substances afterward, has sympathies with the mutability of Populus, and Conjunctio’s dynamism foreshadows Via’s. Between this we find the chord that joins Saturn and the Moon, Saturn as final arbiter and Moon as initiatrix. However, this possibility is realized more fully in the witness of the body where Bet joins with Tav in the regulation of the breath through the nostrils.
Upon the plane of orifices that constitute the face, Bet has a dual expression. It takes up residence in both the left nostril and the sinuses, overseeing the gaping hole that the nostrils become upon the defleshed skull. That one orifice (Carcer) opens into the chambers of the sinuses (Conjunctio). The inner nostril is a physical structure and a spiritual bond, the relationship between memory and smell, the way a smell can thrust the past suddenly into the present.
This mystery revealed by the skull and scent points to a deeper mystery within Bet. Carcer and Conjunctio bear witness to the skull and the tongue (taste and smell), respectively, as each play a role in Bet’s housing and differentiating the divine voice of Alef. As skull and tongue, they refer to the mother letters (Alef, Mem, Shin) as a whole, with Carcer a mirror for the pans of merit and liability and Conjunctio foreshadowing the labile balance that articulates and manipulates the two. The tongue’s flesh is metonym for the entire face and its expressive capacities, for the flashing of the eyebrows and the flaring of the nostrils.
The face is a tongue (Conjunctio) and the skull a vessel (Carcer).
From here the metonym grows, until we see in Carcer the bones of the animal and in Conjunctio its musculature. Expressiveness joins with the capacity for action and movement, for responsiveness on a grand scale. Carcer and Conjunctio become the interplay of thought and action. The chemical insights reappear, with action (Conjunctio) yielding a new prison in deed, a stable pattern that can only be transformed through a new chain of thought and action. Carcer comes to dominate the scene, with Conjunctio often collapsing again and again into the solidity of habit and homeostasis.
Carcer holds the key to initiation as Carcer’s rigidness can manifest as the death-in-life inhibition that brings us back into synchrony with things as they are, things as they might begin to be otherwise without willful over-determination and disruption. So while the figures of Bet foreshadow all of the Mothers, they bear witness most keenly to the pans of liability and merit. “Let him who is righteous” as the Book of Revelation says.
The path of initiation unfurled by Bet plays between necessities, the breath in the valley of dry bones, and takes place in the domain of time more than the domain of life. In the sequence of days, Bet rests between Pe and Kaf, with the joys and hardships of life leading us to seek the stability of Bet which returns us to the world with a new appreciation and engagement with the substance of fate. Within the domain of Bet proper, the interaction of the person bared and repaired appears in the interplay of Carcer and Conjunctio. Carcer gives expression to the inhibitory effects of those practices often misidentified as ecstatic while Conjunctio structures the connections made between that inhibited bare self and the substance of the ritual (other persons, substances, sounds).
On the Tree of Life itself, Bet raises itself higher than any other double letter and is the only double that is crowned with Keter. Here the geomantic figures give expression to powerful spiritual forces. Carcer speaks for the Queen who oversees both womb and tomb, Conjunctio speaks for both the foolish helper who enlists Mercury in his dealings to delay, defer, and play at the line of freedom opened between twin necessities and the fearsome disciplinarian who challenges and tempers foolhardiness. Asteroth, Lucifer, Beelzebub. But also Magna Mater and her riders who play across the domain of Mithras. Asteroth in many ways the glass dark chiasmus through which Mithras and the Great Mother are images of each other.
In divination, Carcer is all forms of limitation, yes, but it is the limitation that drives us back to what we are most fundamentally. Hardly a kind sign, it is nonetheless a sign that can be fruitful for those willing to confront the person that they are, the person that Carcer forces them to confront through its constraint. I often think of Nelson Mandela in this regard because of the way in which his life was punctuated by extreme forms of constraint but he was able to work that constraint to generate potent transformations. May none of us have to endure so much.
In divination, Conjunctio is all forms of connection, but care must be taken to realize how dangerous and fraught that can be. What comes together might yield poisonous fumes, infighting, the vector for the transmission of disease. It brings out what is latent and we should be wary of what is released by such interactions. The transformations they introduce can be good and bad, insightful and confusing. Conjunctio is a figure of science and it can begin its work through destruction and decomposition (though we see this played out more intensely in Resh’s signs, signs which will yield us Conjunctio).