Ruland says, “Imagination is the star in man. The celestial or super-celestial body.”
This astounding definition throws a quite special light on the fantasy processes connected with the “opus.”
We have to conceive of these processes not as the immaterial phantoms we readily take fantasy-pictures to be, but as something corporeal, a “subtle body” (fig. 139), semi-spiritual in nature.
In an age when there was as yet no empirical psychology such a concretization was bound to be made, because everything unconscious, once it was activated, was projected into matter that is to say, it approached people from outside.
It was a hybrid phenomenon, As it were, half spiritual, half-physical, a concretization such as we frequently encounter in the psychology of primitives.
The “imagination”, or the act of imagining, was thus a physical activity that could be fitted into the cycle of material changes, that brought these about and was brought about by them in turn.
In this way the alchemist related himself not only to the unconscious but directly to the very substance which he hoped to transform through the power of imagination.
The singular expression “astrum” (star) is a Paracelsan term, which in this context means something like “quintessence.”
Imagination is therefore a concentrated extract of the life forces, both physical and psychic.
So the demand that the artifex must have a sound physical constitution is quite intelligible, since he works with and through his own quintessence and is himself the indispensable condition of his own experiment.
But, just because of this intermingling of the physical and the psychic, it always remains an obscure point whether the ultimate transformations in the alchemical process are to be sought more in the material or in the spiritual realm.
Actually, however, the question is wrongly put: there was no “either-or” for that age, but there did exist an intermediate realm between mind and matter, i.e., a psychic realm of subtle bodies whose characteristic it is to manifest themselves as well as a material form.
This is the only view that makes sense of alchemical ways of thought, which must otherwise appear nonsensical.
Obviously, the existence of this intermediate realm comes to a sudden stop the moment we try to investigate matter in and for itself, apart from all projection; and it remains non-existent so long as we believe we know anything conclusive about matter of the psyche.
But the moment when physics touches on the “untrodden, untreadible regions,” and when psychology has at the same time to admit that there are other forms of psychic life besides the acquisitions of personal consciousness-in other words, when psychology too touches on an impenetrable darkness-then the intermediate realm of subtle bodies comes to life again, and the physical and the psychic are once more blended in an indissoluble unity. We have come very near to this turning-point today. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, Paragraph 394.
The concept of “imagination” is perhaps the most important key to understanding the opus. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, Paragraph 395.
Image: Hermes conjuring the winged soul out of an urn.-Attic funeral lekythos (Figure 139 in Psychology and Alchemy)