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Carl Jung’s Introduction to Alchemy


Modern Psychology: C. G. Jung’s Lectures at the ETH Zürich, 1933-1941


Lecture 8th November, 1940

Prof. FRITZ FLEINER, our late authority on constitutional law, once said of our Swiss democracy: “it educates the citizen to a higher degree of common sense and responsibility than any other form of government, and enriches his mind with ideas which transcend his private interests and everyday life.”

While the former is a task which belongs to political education, the latter gives me a right to speak of a theme which lies far from the turmoil of present day events: the Process of Individuation, for not only political but also psychical equilibrium is undergoing a most violent shock. Individuation, as we understand it here, means a process inside the individual human being, as those of you who attended my former lectures already know.

Our age is striving to bring about a conglomeration and organization of enormous masses of people in which the individual suffocates, whereas meditation on the Process of Individuation leads in the reverse direction: to the problem of the spiritual development of the individual.

Necessary as the public organization of the masses is, yet the value of them all depends on the value of the individual.

Were one to multiply an idiot by a million, the result would by no means be a genius. In other words: if the individual is worthless, the nation will be worthless; and if the individual does not flourish, the
whole will not flourish.

The process of individuation is founded on the instinctive urge of every living creature to reach its own totality and fulfilment.

The trend of nature in this respect is more towards completeness than perfection.

Man, however, is not only unconscious, physical nature, he has an ethos as well, which demands goodness, truth and beauty.

Therefore the merely natural urge comes into conflict with the reflective and valuing spirit, for the latter is constantly trying, for its own ends, to remodel or turn aside the pure play of nature.

It was this conflict which gave rise to those efforts that I have described to you in former lectures, with particular examples and in fullest detail.

These were – beginning with the East – classical Yoga, which aims at “yoking” the klesas, the natural urges; and the Buddhist exercises in meditation, whose task is that of transforming the Yogin into the Buddha. After which – turning to the West – I gave you a detailed account of the Ignatian exercises, which correspond exactly to Buddhist Yoga, though naturally in a Christian form and in keeping with the characteristic psychology of the West.

All these methods approach their task with the conscious design of influencing and altering the impetus of nature towards self-fulfillment in an explicit way, and in a previously determined direction.

They all start from the more or less silent assumption, that human consciousness knows exactly those forms and conditions into which nature should transform herself.

They do not doubt the possibility of being able to imprint and drill definite forms and formulas on nature, and are apparently quite sure that these forms represent the best and most Holy, even the
will of God itself.

Particularly the rules of the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius do not leave the smallest loophole where anything unforeseen could slip in or out.

While nature is credited with every spontaneity and artifice, the spirit appears as an inexorable inflexibility, and as a fore-determined system of irrevocable and absolute validity.

The spirit is granted practically no freedom.

It does not seem to be credited with any creative activity, outside the actual and traditional formulation, handed down in human consciousness.

For the purpose of disciplining the “miles ecclesiae” (soldiers of the Church) this limitation is doubtless indispensable, but the Pauline spirit in the Christian religion hardly supports this attitude.

In I. Thess. V. 1 9 , St. Paul says: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. ” (The Greek is: “to kalon katechete”; the Latin: ” quod bonum est tenete. )

If the freedom of the spirit had not been very active somewhere, such strictly prescribed regulations would hardly have been necessary.

The schism in the Church, the Reformation and … the numerous sects which sprang into existence, give a direct motive for the regulations.

These show us the freedom of the spirit at work but also, unfortunately, its lack of restraint, which the reformers themselves were already obliged to oppose.

These historical events speak all too clearly in favor of an authoritative formula, which, with relentless severity, guides the apparently chaotic spiritual development into certain channels.

Nothing indeed has develop ed inside schismatic religious movements which could in any way be compared with yoga or with the Ignatian exercises.

It seems, therefore, as if only the conscious, with its hard and rigid formulas, were the supreme arbiter capable of bridling a-moral and boundless nature.

It was from this conviction, that a firm belief gradually developed in the almighty power of human reason and of the will, and in the identity of spirit with consciousness.

But with the growth of this conviction, the idea of the spontaneity of the spirit also gradually disappeared; for the latter, it seemed, constantly needed the support of the human will.

Only nature had instinctive urges, but these were apparently missing in the spirit, so that the latter finally forfeited all importance as a natural phenomenon.

The spirit has recently even been represented as the “adversary of the soul ” and as a principle hostile to life (KLAGES).

In the same degree in which the spirit forfeited its spontaneous manifesting activity, nature was reduced to pure matter, the “physis” became “physics”.

But human reason won a disproportionate advantage in this development, which increasingly induced the individual, as well as the masses, to accept the superstition that one could subordinate the totality of life to reason, and thereby make reason the absolute ruler of destiny.

But the revolution of enlightenment, which raised the Goddess of Reason to the throne, ended in a bloody orgy.

For when the “deesse Raison” usurps the power, she turns into murderous “raisons d’Etat”, which only benefit the people in power and never mankind.

Reason can only be applied by reasonable people, otherwise it is the right means in the hands of the wrong man and brings about destruction.

Is the spirit then really a system of ideas, impotent in itself, always dependent on the support of reason and will?

Has the spirit really no autonomy, no existence of its own and no natural dynamis, which could, should the opportunity arise, successfully oppose reason, or – better still – successfully oppose the instinctive power of nature?

Is the spirit not also nature, a spiritual nature, just as wild, unruly and chaotic as the world of physical instincts?

In answering this question, history may again be expected to provide us with some examples which will be no less convincing.

We need only think of the history of the heresies, of philosophy and of revolutionary ideas altogether.

When we face these mighty phenomena in the history of the spirit, we cannot easily avoid the impression, that the impulsive force and the dynamis of the spirit are hardly less than those of the world of physical instincts.

A deeper analysis of these phenomena leads us even to doubt, whether spiritual nature is so very different from physical nature.

Often indeed one even has the impression, that it is a matter of one and the same nature, merely approaching us in two modalities; whereby both avail themselves of so-called reason, in order to slip into the dominion of man and make the king-om of reason illusory.

Nature indeed was not originally regarded as merely material but was fully as much spirit as matter.

Nature was permeated with spirit for man in antiquity and the countenance of God still shines forth from nature in the “Theologia naturalis”.

If we subject the psychical nature of man to a careful analysis, we discover not only physical natural urges in the unconscious, but also spiritual determinants.

And as the natural urges are not purely of evil, neither are the spiritual.

A representative of the philosophy of nature in the first century A. D., DEMOKRITOS (Pseudo-Demokritos) , coined the sentence: “Nature delights in nature, nature conquers nature, nature rules nature.”

ZOSIMOS, a philosopher of the third century A. D., said something similar: “Nature, when it is turned upon itself, transforms itself.”

These sentences should be interpreted in the following way: Nature consists of the inner communion of two and overcomes itself to reach a higher form.

The formula of Demokritos originates in the feeling for nature in antiquity when the world was not yet without soul.

It expresses the conviction, that nature also contains that which overcomes nature.

The later conflict between nature and spirit has not yet broken out, they are still in a condition of a mysterious process of embrace, death and higher birth, concealed in the womb of nature.

This thought then – that the means to higher development is enclosed in the essence of nature itself, and cannot therefore be forced on nature by the will and its rational formulas – is the basis of a spiritual movement in the West, which is of a totally different kind from that with which we became acquainted in the Ignatian exercises.

It is also an exercise in meditation, but of a quite particular kind, which was not usually even recognized as such.

For it was a secret, and successfully concealed itself behind a number of misleading designations; it called itself philosophy” quite as often as “alchemy” or the “art of making gold”.

In its historical outcome it did not flow back into a recognized form of religion but into natural science, which all too often app eared in opposition to faith, and set knowledge and experience against belief.

The essence of science is knowledge, it does not know the piety of faith, but that of investigation and of knowledge.

This side of modern science originates in ancient astrology and alchemy.

The development of science, which is so extraordinarily characteristic for the West, owes its origin in a great measure to the experimental attitude of mind in alchemy.

Alchemy is founded on the conviction of the spontaneity of the spirit and of inspiration, and strives, in untiring speculative meditation, to explore the unbound spirit of nature and to give it expression.

The methods, which I described in my earlier lectures, attempt to imprint a predetermined form on the soul, working from outside inwards; whereas alchemy endeavors to assist a psychical potentiality, hidden in unconscious nature, to develop and unfold to the greatest possible extent, in that it removes, working from inside outwards, the obstacles in the path of the hidden soul striving towards the light.

“Hab et omnia in se, quo indiget” (it has everything which it needs in itself) was the principle on which this art or philosophy worked.

If the Ignatian exercises represent, in a certain sense, the culmination of Christian determination to uplift the human being, alchemy and its philosophy represent, on the other side, an equally deep reaching attempt to free the unconscious spirit; an attempt which is without pre-supposition, and different to the former in every respect.

With the exception of astronomy, almost every natural science has arisen, to a smaller or greater degree, from alchemy; and, although it needed a long detour, this is also the case with modern psychology and its specific range of questions.

For this reason I have decided this winter to give you a description of alchemy, to supplement my earlier lectures on the Ignatian exercises.

I am aware that I am taking a great risk in making this venture, for this philosophy belongs to the most complicated spiritual phenomena, which I have ever encountered; so I must ask for your silent collaboration when I come to the difficult places.

It is the first time that I have ever attempted to deal with this sphere comprehensively; and I have no hope of being able to do this with the necessary clarity, for you will see for yourselves the difficulties with which I
shall have to contend.

Before beginning this theme, I should like to give you a short summary of the foregoing lectures, because my lectures on Individuation are extending over several years , and it is important that we should not lose the thread.

It is a very difficult subject, and one which cannot be dealt with adequately in lectures, so it is necessary to remind you from time to time of what has been said before.

The main theme, from this point up till the end of the third lecture, is a resume of the lectures, reported in the 1938-39 and the 1939-40 volumes of the E.T.H. Notes; but many new aspects appeared and several new texts were quoted.

spoke first of Indian Yoga and of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, but I will not go into this again, as it would lead into too much detail.

I should like, however, to remind you of the methods of meditation used in Mahajana Buddhism.

We spoke of two texts, the first was the AMITAYUR-DHYANA-SUTRA.

This is an ancient text, and belongs to the early days of Mahayana Buddhism.

The course which this meditation takes is very characteristic.

It begins with the Yogin looking fixedly at the setting sun; and, as you know, when we do this we still retain an image of it after looking away.

The Yogin then simply concentrates on this image and it becomes a symbol.

The sun is the light and the light represents the highest enlightenment: Buddha.

The whole meditation takes place within the Yogin.

It begins with the image of the sun and ends with it again, but the image has become Buddha.

The active imagination of the individual Yogin has amplified it by pictures, he has filled the image with his creative imagination.

After the sun has been perceived the text says: “Next thou shouldst form the perception of the mater, . . . . clear and pure”, then of ice, “shining and transparent”.

Both these have surfaces which reflect the light.

Then it becomes colored, “lapis lazuli”, and firm as stone.

This means that the vision has gained substance, a firm foundation has been laid through active imagination.

The text says: “Thou wilt see the ground consisting of lapis lazuli, transparent both within and without”.

This firm ground forms a basis on which the ensuing phantasy can be built up.

Beneath this ground of lapis lazuli is the “golden banner “.

Banner is a literal translation of the Sanskrit word “dhvaja ” , which really has more the sense of emblem or symbol.

This is an image which is still hidden beneath the blue surface; that is, it is in the unconscious.

The surface of the water, or the mirroring surface, is the boundary between conscious and unconscious.

Many people are therefore fond of talking of the latter as the subconscious, because it gives them a superior feeling to be above!

The symbol which lies below is a so-called mandala, a magic circle.

This is generally used as a yantra in the East, a religious instrument for the purpose of supporting meditation.

We find a western form of mandala in the rose window.

The mystical rose of the West corresponds more exactly to the eastern lotus or padma.

Buddha sits or stands in the centre of the lotus, just as Christ, as rex gloriae, is often to be found in the centre of the rose window.

Mandala is a more general term.

A series of eight lakes is then formed and made real by means of active imagination.

These lakes contain precious stone water, and are covered with lotus flowers.

The numberless rays, jewels, musical sounds, etc., are described in fullest detail, and form a “ground of seven jewels ” for the great lotus flamer.

“Each leaf of that lotus exhibits the colours of a hundred jewels, and has eighty four thousand veins ” . . .

“There is a tower built of gems ” on the lotus flower, and on it there are “four posts with jeweled banners”, and on the so-called “flowery throne” the Yogin perceives the Buddha himself.

The text says: “It is your mind that is indeed Buddha”, so the Yogin imagines himself as this Buddha which he has created, and knows that the “ocean of true and universal knowledge of all the Buddhas derives its source from one’s own mind and thought”.

Therefore the Yogin should apply his thought to a careful meditation on Buddha, the Holy and Fully Enlightened One.

He does this in all imaginable detail.

In the statement: “your mind is indeed the Buddha ” (which means that the Yogin’s mind is now fully enlightened), he surveys the whole growth of his meditation, in that he recognizes that this Buddha, which he has begotten, is not only an object in itself but is also his own subject.

It is his mind which has been raised to the “flowery throne ” and sits in the lotus.

This lotus, this mandala, equals the sun, with which the meditation began.

Buddha, full enlightenment, is the inner sun, and the Yogin thus goes back, as it were, into the primeval condition of the eternal light.

This is a spiritual image which we also meet in western mysticism, as I pointed out to you in earlier lectures.

The idea of Buddha as the inner sun is parallel to the Christian mystical experience of God, of the inner Christ.

We read in Acts, for instance: “For in him we live, and move, and have our being “S and St. Paul says: ” Know ye not your own s elves, how that Jesus Christ is in you? ”

The other text which we studied was the SHRI-CHAKRA-SAMBHARA TANTRA(Holy-wheel-collected text).

Chakra is another word for mandala, and this text again is a meditation on a mandala.

A circle or mandala has the meaning of a totality.

We know from Plato, that the round thing is the perfect thing, a symbol for wholeness.

So in this text the Buddha is invoked : “All-knowing one, come forward, be round, and round (the Mandala)”.

This means: become the totality, perfection, so that the Yogin may become whole himself during this meditation; for the better he can form the Buddha, the more the Buddha is himself, built of his own substance.

This conception is obviously extremely unchristian.

The text is in a disordered state but, if you study it attentively, you see that it falls into three phases: thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

The Thesis really deals with human consciousness, which is subjected to a thorough philosophical and intellectual analysis.

In the first part (A) the different kinds of knowledge are minutely analyzed, and in the second (B) , the functions of the conscious.

So that the first phase, the thesis, really consists of a dissolution of the conscious individuality into fragments, an intensive intellectual training which has no parallel in the Ignatian exercises.

There are four kinds of knowledge and four functions, for the quaternity is another symbol for the totality, the simplest way of dividing the circle is into four.

The second phase is the Anti-Thesis.

The thesis reaches a kind of achievement and this is threatened in the anti-thesis.

This threat is met by considering how the 5th in each case is the quinta essentia, Buddha essence, Buddha knowledge.

the danger should be dealt with, and by imagining defenses.

The attack comes from the side of the unconscious : a bad woman, the Yogin’s feminine side, the so-called anima, plays a leading role.

She app ears as ten female Devatas, who threaten the Yogin. We find parallels to this in Christianity, St. Antony of Egypt, for instance, was much tormented by such female apparitions, but in the Christian examples there is a strong moral flavor.

There is no moral conflict in the East, such figures are simply a disturbance.

This disturbance or threat is finally conquered by the Yogin’s realization that these figures are illusion, and he avows: “I am the pure which is the true nature of all things. I am of the nature of the Void.”

The Void (Shunyata) is the essential essence of the world, the unfathomably deep void, which produces every kind of illusory figure, mirror images of our own psychical condition.

The third phase follows: the Synthesis to which we must devote special attention, for it is in the synthesis that a positive edifice is erected.

We are shown in this how the Yogin transforms himself, through many symbolical stages, until he attains Buddha, complete enlightenment.

There is a symbol sequence in ten stages (beginning with Mount Meru), which is especially interesting to us, in that these same symbols also played an important role in the western hemisphere, particularly in Hermetic or alchemistic philosophy.

Our forefathers devoted a great deal of time to these things and would have recognized their own “black arts ” in such eastern texts.

I have handled this series thoroughly in earlier lectures, so I will not go into detail again, but will only briefly remind you of it.

This meditation also starts with a foundation, but this time it is the image of a mountain, the world mountain, Mount Meru.

On this mountain there is a city, with four fences, of four different colours; and the city is “quadrangular in shape with three tiers of squares thereon and eight turrets.”

This must all, of course, be imagined, that is, created, in fullest detail.

On the “top of all a multi-colored, four-headed Vajra” should be imagined.

This is the diamond or thunderbolt and is a well-known Tibetan symbol.

The date of this text is unknown, it is quite possibly of comparatively recent origin.

Many such texts have only reached Europe lately, largely owing to Sir John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon), the editor of the “Tantric Texts”, of which the Shri-Chakra-Sambhara Tantra is the seventh volume.

The vajra or thunderbolt represents concentrated energy. (See tracing14) .

The symbol in the centre is the emblem of a popular religion in Tibet, the religion of the “Red Hats”.

I was told by a reliable authority on the b orders of Tibet, that this religion deals in magic and has not a very high reputation.

The symbol goes left, anti-clockwise, towards the dark unconscious which is unfavorable.

The higher Buddhist Tibetan order of the “Yellow Hats” has the same symbol but turning the other way, right, clockwise, towards the conscious, which is favorable.

Both symbols are found together on the throne of the Dalai Lama, he unites the red and yellow hats, the two paths of Tibetan Buddhism: the path of the left hand, leading to the dark, and the path of the right hand, leading towards the light summit of consciousness. ~Carl Jung, Modern Psychology, Pages 11-18.