Archive for the ‘alchemy’ tag
I want to begin by bringing a sort of synthesis of the process as spoken by Jung in Mysterium Coniunctionis:
“Grey and black [nigredo] correspond to Saturn and the evil world; they symbolize the beginning in darkness, in the melancholy, fear, wickedness, and wretchedness of ordinary human life. . . . The darkness and blackness can be interpreted psychologically as man’s confusion and lostness . . . The situation is now gradually illuminated as is a dark night by the rising moon. The illumination comes to a certain extent from the unconscious, since it is mainly dreams that put us on the track of enlightenment This dawning light corresponds to the albedo, the moonlight which in the opinion of some alchemists heralds the rising sun. The growing redness (rubedo) which now follows denotes an increase in warmth and light coming from the sun, consciousness.” (Jung, CW vol. 14, para. 306-307)
The alchemical journey is one of moving from the depths of darkness where one is indeed lost, back into the full light of day where we are aware of our own presence in relation to the world which is illuminated by the day. Aware, conscious, alive. There is a vitality that is felt as one is able to breathe freely and deeply and participate in life rather than stand on the sidelines guarding our breath while trying to fade into the shadows so that no one sees us or hears us.
With consciousness, we become aware of our presence in relationships, we become aware of our body and its sensations, we become aware of the dance of contradictions that often find their expression in good versus evil.
This consciousness is not all encompassing, can never be all encompassing. If all the darkness (unconscious) was exposed and brought to consciousness, there would be no awareness. Awareness can only exist in contrast. Day only exists because there is night. Black only exists because there is white.
Now, to finish this first part of exploring the rubedo with a return to Jung’s words:
“This corresponds to the increasing participation of consciousness, which now begins to react emotionally to the contents produced by the unconscious. At first the process of integration is a “fiery” conflict, but gradually it leads over to the “melting” or synthesis of the opposites. The alchemists termed this the rubedo, in which the marriage of the red man and the white woman, Sol and Luna, is consummated. Although the opposites flee from one another they nevertheless strive for balance, since a state of conflict is too inimical to life to be endured indefinitely.” (Jung, CW vol. 14, para. 307)
This third stage, citrinitas, is particularly difficult to grasp. More often that not, attempts to use an alchemical for psychotherapy limit themselves to just three stages. Jung and his student, Marie-Louise von Franz do include citrinitas in their discussions of alchemy, but noted that it was a fourth and final stage, that of becoming gold. With that said, Jung’s and Jungian focus still limited . I will stick with the idea that citrinitas is the third stage in the process as that is what makes sense to me.
The idea of turning base material into gold is an idea that seems more magical than real. And, it is the magical that emerges during this stage. One is led to think of a magician such as Merlin, or even Christ. Both somehow defied all logic and nature to accomplish magical deeds. But where does this fit in with psychological process in therapy?
I want to step back just a little to place this stage in context using symbolism. In the first stage, nigredo,, light was lost as the psyche descended into the inner world of the unconscious where all the negative and fearful aspects of self have been contained as if in some personal hell. In the second stage, albedo, a light appears in the darkness, the light of an awakened soul which is symbolised as a moon (the feminine) shining in the darkness. The third stage, citrinitas, brings forth the light of the sun (the masculine), a light which magically transforms the shadowy and fearful into valuable consciousness. It is as though one has achieved the treasure grace à Dieu, through the Grace of God.
In this stage, awareness deepens. The problem yet remains how to assimilate this in order to return to the balance of being an ordinary human living an ordinary life? The objective of any therapy is to allow each of us to become at one with ourselves so that we can be fully present in our outer world as well as in our inner world. The objective of therapy is not to turn us into mystical and magical beings that don’t belong to the world. Assimilating bits of the unconscious aspects of ourselves is a huge task that sometimes falls off the rails, especially when we meet with the awe that comes with discovering the gold within ourselves.
“One is inclined to think that ego-consciousness is capable of assimilating the unconscious, at least one hopes that such a solution is possible. But unfortunately the unconscious really is unconscious; in other words, it is unknown. And how can you assimilate something unknown?” (Jung, CW 9i, para. 520)
The bits of gold we discover are just that bits. The depths of our psyche reach deeper beyond the boundaries of our personal self. Yet the discovery of these bits does lead to wonder and joy, even ecstasy. There is danger here for us, a danger that we will become so entranced of this ecstasy that we refuse to leave this stage.as it feels like perfection, we feel like perfect beings in a perfect bubble.
“One hopes to control the unconscious, but the past masters in the art of self-control, the yogis, attain perfection in sam?dhi, a state of ecstasy, which so far as we know is equivalent to a state of unconsciousness. It makes no difference whether they call our unconscious a “universal consciousness”; the fact remains that in their case the unconscious has swallowed up ego-consciousness.” (Jung, CW 9i, para. 520)
There is work yet to be done, to bring this gold back to the world, back in the form of a more mature and aware self.
“From the darkness of the unconscious comes the light of illumination, the albedo. (Jung, Mysterium Coniuntionis, paragraph 220)
Awareness. How often do we avoid it in spite of our protestations otherwise? If one dares to look outside oneself, one is able to see the reflections of oneself in the world and in others. But to have the ability to see these reflections, one has to remove the filters and the shades that cover consciousness. Needless to say, this is easier said than done.
Let me step back a bit to talk about darkness and light. In all of our stories concerning the creation of the world and all life, we are told about an all encompassing darkness in which there is no knowledge, no awareness of anything, no life. Somehow, out of the darkness light is born and with that light, life.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” (The Holy Bible, “Genesis,” 1:1-4)
But of course, that is just the beginning of the story. Without light, there is nothing that is firm, nothing that is definable. There is no foundation upon which we can sense ourselves or the outer world around us. We hide, fearful in the darkness, without looking at that darkness, doing our best to deny that darkness. We are victims of that darkness. Rather than sink into the darkness and become one with it, we build walls to deny the darkness walls which do little other than delude ourselves of the reality of who and what we are. And then, someone turns on a light and all is exposed. Now, we are in deep shit.
“And the Lord commanded the man, saying, Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it . . . (The Holy Bible, “Genesis,” 2:16-17)
“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be gods, knowing good and evil.” (The Holy Bible, “Genesis,” 3:5)
“And the eyes of them both [Adam and Eve] were opened, and they knew that they were naked . . .” (The Holy Bible, “Genesis,” 3:7)
And this is the dilemma we face in turning on the light, we get to see our deficits as well as our perfections. And for some strange reason, we are drawn to our deficits, our warts and sores. But now in the light, we are confronted with ourselves and we don’t like what is exposed as we stand naked to our own consciousness.
Now to continue on from the last post . . . From Nigel Hamilton’s study, “The Alchemical Process of Transformation“:
“From a psychological standpoint, this stage is experienced as entering a dark and chaotic unconscious inner world. St John of the Cross has referred to this as the first of two dark nights, the dark night of the mind, which is an encounter with the darker aspects of our self (that which Jung called “the shadow”). At first nothing appears to make sense, indeed all the therapist can do at this stage of the process is to be fully present and empathise with the client, who in the process of articulating their experience, facilitates it further. The therapeutic setting, i.e. the therapy room, becomes the hermetically sealed vessel and the inner chaos that the client enters into is symbolised by the reactions of opposing forces struggling against each other. That is to say the client’s own psyche reveals its submerged inner conflicts to the conscious mind.
This is what I referred to in the last post, the establishing of a place of sacred safety, of temenos. During this part of the work, the “client” tells his or her story as it is known and sensed by the ego, the clothed self, This telling is vital and it is enough for the therapist to listen and support without trying to fix anything at this point.
As the client begins to experience the inner world to be more real, the process intensifies (the fire increases) and often anger, fear, frustration, and a desire to “escape from it all” is experienced. To pass through this stage requires patience, humility and acceptance not only of the client, but also of the therapist, who through experiences knows that a process of purification is in progress and that one by one the inner conflicts will gradually become resolved until a completely new inner state of clarity and freedom is achieved. Then the client will be reconciled with his or her inner earth nature - in alchemical terms they will have united with their “earth nature.”
The therapist tracks the appearance of complexes, contradictions, images and fears through the process of working with dreams, journaling, sand play, and other active imagination strategies. For the client, it almost feels that everything is getting worse as old sores are laid open, exposed to the light. It must be stated that the process doesn’t wait for all the shadows to be exposed. The shifting to the second stage, albedo begins when the therapist and client begin to tackle what has been exposed. Only so much darkness can be held at one time.
The dark night of the soul, this is something that is intimately known by all who suffer depression. The dark night of the soul is what we meet when we enter into midlife crisis. Each of us senses a darkness, a place of shadows from which we want to flee. This depression is not “organic,” a depression that is chemically induced. This depression and darkness appears to be something “out there,” something to which we feel we are victims. Typically, we run like hell trying to escape, trying to hide from the darkness. Drugs, sex, money, work, new places, new hobbies, redecorating our homes, a new car, a new spouse: we try anything to banish that darkness. But, the darkness refuses to be banished. This is the dark night of the soul, or at least our introduction to that darkness.
If we are like many others, we head to a doctor’s office for some pharmaceutical relief; or to a psychotherapist’s chair for some answers, some other strategies to banish the darkness. We do this only as a last resort knowing that if we don’t do something we will descend into insanity or commit suicide. It isn’t a pretty picture, but it is real.
“Alchemy announced a source of knowledge . . . which yields a “bitter” water by no means acceptable to our human judgment. It is harsh and bitter or like vinegar, for it is a bitter thing to accept the darkness and blackness of the umbra solis and to pass through this valley of the shadow. It is bitter indeed to discover behind one’s lofty ideals narrow, fanatical convictions, all the more cherished for that, and behind one’s heroic pretensions nothing but crude egotism, infantile greed, and complacency. This painful corrective is an unavoidable stage in every psychotherapeutic process . . . it begins with the nigredo . . .“ (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14, paragraph346)
So, the pain serves as an impetus to finally do something about the pain when all other avenues prove fruitless. So, one enters into psychotherapy. However, before the work can even begin, there is a need to create a place for the work; a safe, even sacred place. Like a surgeon preparing for an operation, there is the need to build a sense of safety in the relationship as well as place. The therapist needs to become aware of the boundary limits (or lack thereof) of the person and to build a sense of trust in that person as well as to have the person enter into a trust relationship with the therapist.
As time goes by, the two begin to test each other, test the boundaries of safety. And when there is a sense of safety, the belief that the container of their relationship has become sacred in its own way, then the work may begin:
“In the early period of analysis, the primary work is the establishment of the boundary, the analytical temenos, in which the analysis is to take place.” (Hall, The Jungian Experience, p. 78)
There is real vulnerability for both therapist and the person entering into this work of depth psychology. It is as through the establishment of temenos that one becomes safe enough to strip of their psychic layers as if stripping off clothing in order to expose the wounds that have led to the therapists office.
In Jungian psychology, the journey towards wholeness is called individuation. In alchemical terms, this wholeness is represented by the masculine and the feminine symbolism which takes the form of a holy wedding between the king and the queen. Knowing that the images are symbolic is vital for understanding of the psychological process. Within the psyche, the anima, or soul, is the feminine aspect; consciousness is the masculine aspect.
As to be expected, there are other symbols that are used to illustrate the idea of completion, of wholeness. One that finds it way into contemporary society is that of the sun and the moon contained together. As I walk down the street of my tiny town, I can see numerous examples of this image including several that are on my house. In Jungian terms, the sun is symbolic of consciousness, of the masculine principle; the moon is symbolic of the unconscious, or feminine principle. It is vital to differentiate the masculine and the feminine principles from biological males and females.
In social terms, the union of a man and a woman with the resulting creation of a child produces a wholeness that all societies embrace as family. This union of male and female has its roots in instinct, in the will to survive as a species. The union also has the impulse for completeness, for two to become one for a moment, a moment in which allows a transcendence of the painfully prosaic lives we live as individuals, even if we are in relationship with others.
With the act of union completed, it doesn’t take long for each to retreat within themselves and begin a grieving process for the loss of the other, for the loss of a sense of being at one with oneself. One returns to suffering.
“In talking about sex, we are getting into a very big topic. We are getting into the fact that every life situation has meaning behind it, or a process of communication in it. Communication can’y be established unless there are two parties, one of whom is the activator and the other the receiver. On that basis, any communication can be said to be sexual, although I’m not being Freudian here. The passionate quality of sex, doesn’t have to be involved necessarily. In order to communicate anything, however, you do have to have the true element of union. From the tantric point of view, everything is interpreted that way – in terms of union. There is the union of samsara ad nirvana, the union of phenomena and consciousness. We interpret it all in terms of the feminine and masculine principles. Everything is seen that way. (Trungpa, Work, Sex, Money, p. 106)
The union of masculine and feminine, the union of all dualities, polarities – the union of opposites and the achievement of wholeness, of one-ness.
We, as humans, like to keep things separated and in their respective boxes. It makes for bringing order into what otherwise appears to be a world in chaos. We have developed codes for ourselves to ensure that order is kept, to keep things black and white. When things don’t stay in their places, we have a tendency to react negatively.
Alchemy, as a science, looked to bringing different elements together, having them interact and then noting how that interaction changed the two as they became one. The mixing of copper and tin is a prime example which resulted in the creation of bronze.
In psychological alchemy, the work or opus is focused on bringing together the conscious and the unconscious aspects of an individual in order to arrive at a wholeness for the human psyche. Carl Gustav Jung was among those who studied the ancient arts of alchemy with the view of trying to heal the human psyche, attempting to bring the fractured pieces together. One of his major works expanding on this task is called Mysterium Coniunctionis.
Jung not only drew from alchemy, he also drew from Hinduism and Buddhism in order to try to more fully understand the nature of the human psyche and approaches to healing the psyche, a task that today we call psychology and psychiatry.
As I travelled through Indian I was amazed at the presence of the overt representation of the masculine (linga) and the feminine (yoni) in every temple that I came across, a representation that had the two as one. There was little left to imagination. The union of the masculine and the feminine created a wholeness. Of course, the representation was symbolic of creation.
The idea of the union of male and female was graphically on display in various temples as well, such as the temples of Khajuraharo. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, there is a respect given to the sexual nature of being human, a respect that goes beyond merely the physical. Sexual union has a holy aspect, one that curiously points the way beyond the limits of body.
The practice of Tantric sex that has its roots in Hinduism and becomes embraced at some of the highest levels of Buddhism, specifically, Vajrayana Buddhism. The primary purpose is directed to achieving a state of wholeness and awareness.
Wholeness. The impulse to become one, to re-enter into the womb of creation and be at one with the initial impulse of creation. In Jungian psychology, the same symbolism occurs with the same intent, that of healing the human psyche, rejoining the shattered parts, the divorced masculine and feminine aspects of an individual. There is much to talk about yet, so I will leave the rest for part three.
Alchemy is an ancient art that has for its goal the transformation of turning base metals (lead and iron) into noble metals (gold and silver). Alchemy also had the goal of creating the elixir of life which would allow one to retain the appearance and energy of youth rather that the decline into old age and infirmity. Our modern world of chemistry continues the tradition established thousands of years ago, the tradition of transforming aspects of the outer world for the benefit of humans.
But alchemy is much more than about science and chemistry, it is also about the alchemist and the psychology of the human spirit which sees the possibilities going beyond what and who we are. Humans not only want more, they want to be more. We all are unsatisfied with ourselves in some fashion, physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually, or in our relationships with others. We swallow pills and alcohol, we smoke various substances, we engage in various dietary regimes, undergo surgery or enter into psychoanalysis in hopes of changing ourselves.
I am no different. I meditate, I eat carefully and choose carefully what I eat, I take a few medications to help regulate body systems that have weakened over time. I abandoned practices that kept me subservient to spiritual authority and adopted a spiritual path that felt right. And in the process of doing things differently, I changed, I transformed.
When I bring up the word alchemy here, I will bring with it a psychological rather than a chemical association. I am not interested in test tubes and finding an answer out there. I am interested in finding answers within so that I can better appreciate who I am, and as a result, better appreciate others as individual humans.
I intend on presenting a series of posts that look at alchemy from a naturist and psychological point of view. If I accept that naturism allows one to achieve a physical state that is in holistic balance with the earth, with relationship with others and with the self, it is desirable that one looks for a psychological balance as well since we are as much spirit as we are body. I will draw on several major sources for this series. The first is a document written by Nigel Hamilton called “The Alchemical Process of Transformation.” The second source is a contemporary web site maintained by Adam McLean called, The Alchemy Web Site. The third source is a book written by Marie-Louise von Franz called, Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology. The final, and perhaps most important source is to be taken from the works of Carl Gustav Jung.
I am not an alchemist. However, there is much in the realm of alchemy which allows me to better understand myself, allows me to remove all the layers that hide the essence of who I am.
In following the model of alchemy from a Jungian psychology standpoint, the exposure to the naked self allows for a transformation at a conscious level. With that transformation, I am able to be, to live more authentically, more aware of myself in the world. In adding the dimension of Buddhism to my journey towards awareness, I have found that even in Buddhism, alchemy has had a significant role to play in its history.
I can’t pretend to be an expert on alchemy, but I can talk about the stages of transformation as I understand them in relation to my experiences as a therapist and as analysand. This isn’t an easy process, but then one would not expect it to be easy. Awareness, enlightenment – these are the goals, to become as fully aware as possible, aware of self, others and the world. To approach these goals, one has to strip away a lot of layers and face truths alone and naked.