I am therefore inclined to assume that the real root of alchemy is to be sought less in philosophical doctrines than in the projections of individual investigators. I mean by this that while working on his chemical experiments the operator had certain psychic experiences which appeared to him as the particular behavior of the chemical process. Since it was a question of projection, he was naturally unconscious of the fact that the experience had nothing to do with matter itself (that is, with matter as we know it today). He experienced his projection as a property of matter; but what he was in reality experiencing was his own unconscious. In this way he recapitulated the whole history of mankind’s knowledge of nature…. Such projections repeat themselves whenever man tries to explore an empty darkness and involuntarily fills it with living form. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy (Part 3, Chapter 2.1).
The psychological context of dream-contents consists in the web of associations in which the dream is naturally embedded. Theoretically we can never know anything in advance about this web, but in practice it is sometimes possible, granted long enough experience. Even so, careful analysis will never rely too much on technical rules; the danger of deception and suggestion is too great. In the analysis of isolated dreams above all, this kind of knowing in advance and making assumptions on the grounds of practical expectation or general probability is positively wrong. It should therefore be an absolute rule to assume that every dream, and every part of a dream, is unknown at the outset, and to attempt an interpretation only after carefully taking up the context. We can then apply the meaning we have thus discovered to the text of the dream itself and see whether this yields a fluent reading, or rather whether a satisfying meaning emerges. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy (1944). CW 12: Page 48
Every archetype is capable of endless development and differentiation. It is therefore possible for it to be more developed or less. In an outward form of religion where all the emphasis is on the outward figure (hence where we are dealing with a more or less complete projection) the archetype is identical with externalized ideas but remains unconscious as a psychic factor. When an unconscious content is replaced by a projected image to that extent, it is cut off from all participation in an influence on the conscious mind. Hence it largely forfeits its own life, because prevented from exerting the formative influence on consciousness natural to it; what is more, it remains in its original form — unchanged, for nothing changes in the unconscious. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy.
The real mystery does not behave mysteriously or secretively; it speaks a secret language, it adumbrates itself by a variety of images which all indicate its true nature. I am not speaking of a secret personally guarded by someone, with a content known to its possessor, but of a mystery, a matter or circumstance which is “secret,” i.e., known only through vague hints but essentially unknown. The real nature of matter was unknown to the alchemist: he knew it only in hints. In seeking to explore it he projected the unconscious into the darkness of matter in order to illuminate it. In order to explain the mystery of matter he projected yet another mystery – his own psychic background -into what was to be explained: Obscurum per obscurius, ignotum per ignotius! This procedure was not, of course, intentional; it was an involuntary occurrence.” ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy (Part 3, Chapter 2.1)
When the alchemist speaks of Mercurius, on the face of it he means quicksilver (mercury), but inwardly he means the world-creating spirit concealed or imprisoned in matter. The dragon is probably the oldest pictoral symbol in alchemy of which we have documentary evidence. It appears as the Ouroboros, the tail-eater, in the Codex Marcianus, which dates from the tenth or eleventh century, together with the legend ‘the One, the All’. Time and again the alchemists reiterate that the opus proceeds from the one and leads back to the one, that it is a sort of circle like a dragon biting its own tail. For this reason the opus was often called circulare (circular) or else rota (the wheel). Mercurius stands at the beginning and end of the work: he is the prima materia, the caput corvi, and the nigredo; as dragon he devours himself and as dragon he dies, to rise again in the lapis. He is the play of colors in the cauda pavonis and the division into the four elements. He is the hermaphrodite that was in the beginning that splits into the classical brother-sister duality and is reunited in the coniunctio, to appear once again at the end in the radiant form of the lumen novum, the stone. He is metallic yet liquid, matter yet spirit, cold yet fiery, poison and yet healing draught – a symbol uniting all the opposites. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy (Part 3, Chapter 3.1).
Now, all these myth-pictures represent a drama of the human psyche on the further side of consciousness, showing man as both the one to be redeemed and the redeemer. The first formulation is Christian, the second alchemical. In the first case man attributes the need of redemption to himself and leaves the work of redemption, the actual opus, to the autonomous divine figure; in the latter case man takes upon himself the duty of carrying out the redeeming opus, and attributes the state of suffering and consequent need of redemption to the anima mundi imprisoned in matter. In both cases redemption is a work. In Christianity it is the life and death of the God-man which, by a unique sacrifice, bring about the reconciliation of man, who craves redemption and is sunk in materiality, with God. The mystical effect of the God-man’s self-sacrifice extends, broadly speaking, to all men, though it is efficacious only for those who submit through faith or are chosen by divine grace; but in the Pauline acceptance it acts as an apocatastasis and extends also to non-human creation in general, which, in its imperfect state, awaits redemption like the merely natural man. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy (Part 3, Chapter 3.3).
From this point of view, alchemy seems like a continuation of Christian mysticism carried on in the subterranean darkness of the unconscious…. But this unconscious continuation never reached the surface, where the conscious mind could have dealt with it. All that appeared in consciousness were the symbolic symptoms of the unconscious process. Had the alchemist succeeded in forming any concrete idea of his unconscious contents, he would have been obliged to recognize that he had taken the place of Christ – or, to be more exact, that he regarded not as ego but as self, had taken over the work of redeeming not man but God. He would then have had to recognize not only himself as the equivalent of Christ, but Christ as a symbol of the self. This tremendous conclusion failed to dawn on the medieval mind. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy (Part 3, Chapter 5.1).
To remain a child too long is childish, but it is just as childish to move away and then assume that childhood no longer exists because we do not see it. But if we return to the “children’s land” we succumb to the fear of becoming childish, because we do not understand that everything of psychic origin has a double face. One face looks forward, the other back. It is ambivalent and therefore symbolic, like all living reality. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy (1944). CW 12; Page 74.
Western man is held in thrall by the “ten thousand things”; he sees only particulars, he is ego-bound and thing-bound, and unaware of the deep root of all being. Eastern man, on the other hand, experiences the world of particulars, and even his own ego, like a dream; he is rooted essentially in the “Ground,” which attracts him so powerfully that his relations with the world are relativized to a degree that is often incomprehensible to us. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy (1944). CW 12; Page 8.
In so far as the archetypal content of the Christian drama was able to give satisfying expression to the uneasy and clamorous unconscious of the many, the consensus omnium raised this drama to a universally binding truth–not of course by an act of judgment, but by the irrational fact of possession, which is far more effective. Thus Jesus became the tutelary image or amulet against the archetypal powers that threatened to possess everyone. The glad tidings announced: ‘It has happened, but it will not happen to you inasmuch as you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God!’ Yet it could and it can and it will happen to everyone in whom the Christian dominant has decayed. For this reason there have always been people who, not satisfied with the dominants of conscious life, set forth–under cover and by devious paths, to their destruction or salvation–to seek direct experience of the eternal roots, and, following the lure of the restless unconscious psyche, find themselves in the wilderness where, like Jesus, they come up against the son of darkness. ~Carl Jung; Psychology and Alchemy