The origins of alchemy are more or less synchronistic in East and West, but alchemistic philosophy encountered more resistance in the West than in the East. ~Carl Jung, ETH, Page 142.
The whole history of culture is really the history of a strengthening and widening of consciousness, and therefore of the controlling ego. ~Carl Jung, ETH, Page 137.
It is no wonder, therefore, that nature herself strives to produce a strengthening of the ego in order gradually to bring about more consciousness, for without this the further development of mankind would be impossible. ~Carl Jung, ETH, Page 137.
If I am bound to men and things, I can neither go on with my life to its destination nor can I arrive at my very own and deepest nature. Nor can death begin in me as a new life, since I can only fear death. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 356.
Your awe-inspiring life shows how everyone would have to take their own life into their own hands, faithful to their own essence and their own love. ~Diahmon to the “Shade” [Christ], Red Book, Page 356.
Whoever lives invents his life for himself. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 357.
Here the soul drew near to my ear and whispered, “The Gods are even happy to turn a blind eye from time to time, since basically they know very well that it would be bad for life if there were no exception to eternal law. Hence their tolerance of the devil. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 359.
You must be in the middle of life, surrounded by death on all sides. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 370.
You should call me if you want to live with men, but the one God if you want to rise above the human world to the divine and eternal solitude of the star. ~Carl Jung’s Soul, The Red Book, Page 371.
The touchstone is being alone with oneself. This is the way. ~Carl Jung, The Red Book, Page 330.
Lecture VIII 10th January, 1941
Alchemy and its procedure are very different to Yoga or the Ignatian exercises.
The goal of Yoga, as you will remember, is, on the one side, to “yoke ” the klesas, the natural urge ; and, on the other, to transform the Yogin through active imagination into a higher personality, described as Buddha.
In the exercitia spiritualia also, active imagination is used to achieve the suspension of the ego and to lead it over into the presence of the Deity, in which the autonomy of the ego entirely disappears.
Alchemy cannot, strictly speaking, be compared with either of these two methods.
Alchemy consists of practical experimenting with chemical substances, and of what the alchemists call “theoria”.
This term had a wider meaning for them than the word theory has for us; it still retained something of the original meaning of the Greek word. “Theorein” means to watch, to look at, to be a
spectator, for instance, as at a theatre where one watches the drama.
So the term “theoria” also means contemplation, and contemplation in alchemy is concerned with the nature of the chemical substances.
But here again we must bear in mind that the alchemist, while he was looking at chemical matter, was seeing something totally different to what we perceive.
We have a wide knowledge of the nature of chemical substances, at least we know infinitely more than the old alchemist knew.
Matter was a strange, obscure entity to him, on one side, a physical body [a metal or a salt for instance) and, on the other, a totally incomprehensible and dark object into which he projected certain unconscious contents.
What these contents were we will leave as an open question for the moment.
Unlike Yoga or the Ignatian exercises, alchemistic meditation was not concerned with the ego nor with the Deity.
The leading idea and the purpose of the alchemical work was the production of a certain miraculous body, substance or essence, which should bring about the completion and perfection of physical nature.
By means of its processes, the alchemistic opus produced the tincture which rendered everything which nature had left in an imperfect state perfect.
As an example let us take the alchemist who was working with mercury (quick-silver) or lead.
He did not merely work on this matter, but his laboratory was also an oratory, as he called it, a room for meditation and prayer.
It was of essential importance to him that his work should consist of meditation as well as chemical craft.
These two activities seem heterogeneous to us, but to the alchemist they were indispensable for the production of the desired, mysterious substance which, when achieved, would represent the complete and perfect form of the matter on \which he was working.
In our example, therefore, the lead or quicksilver would turn into gold, the perfect substance.
And this gold is not only the more valuable material, but at the same time it is also the perfect form (forma = soul) of the original substance.
This two-fold work, the physical and the “philosophical”, appears to us as two distinct methods, as a double procedure.
But to the alchemist it was one and the same.
It is very difficult to understand this peculiar mental condition, for we are, used to separating these two activities as carefully as possible.
Our modern scientific attitude tries to eliminate every subjective factor from scientific reasoning.
But the old alchemists were far less conscious of subjective factors, and matter was totally unknown to them, so there was nothing to prevent them transferring their psychical facts into matter.
They saw and experienced in the unknown substances an equally unknown psychical element.
In other words, they projected their unconscious into the chemical substances and processes.
However strange this attitude may seem to our scientific conscience, we must realise that it is all important, for without this realisation we cannot possibly understand the alchemists’ work and ideas.
Apart from our scientific reasoning, projection of course happens to us also whenever we are confronted with something unknown.
And to the alchemists, as we have seen, matter was the unknown thing.
The incomprehensible, mysterious qualities of the substances affected them as a fascinosum.
The collective unconscious was thus constellated by, and projected into, the object, for an incomprehensible object acts like a magnetic hole which becomes filled with psychical elements.
The object is coloured by, or charged with, psychical qualities on account of this projection of psychical factors; and therefore the alchemists were under the impression that matter possessed a soul or
spirit, and their philosophy is derived from this apparent perception.
To the alchemist, matter was endowed with a living soul, and as he met this soul everywhere in his experiments, he concluded that at the bottom of all these individual, physical manifestations, there was a universal, all-permeating soul, an anima mundi (soul of the world), which was the cause of every living substance and of its p articular form.
It is self-evident, therefore, that the alchemistic method had to b e a double one, for it dealt with a duality in the object and was therefore bound to be psychical and chemical.
The anima mundi is the equivalent of the collective unconscious, and, as we know from our own experience, the collective unconscious, as the dark and incomprehensible object, always appears at first in
Such projection happen to us also whenever we have to deal with an unknown object.
We are then almost obliged to explain it by every kind of speculation and hypothesis.
And where do we draw these explanations from?
Naturally from what we possess, from our own psychical store.
And the more unknown an object is, the more exaggerated the hypothesis will be.
When we cannot meet the difficulty with thinking, we rely on intuition, and the more intuitive a person is, the more he will believe that his intuitions, his “hunches”, are always right.
A strong intuition has the quality of fascinating the person to whom it occurs.
We all know people who have the most unheard of ideas and are wholly convinced of their absolute truth, although you can prove to them in 500% of the cases that they are mistaken.
But these cases make no impression on the intuitive, and at the next opportunity he will again receive a revelation.
The alchemist, being in need of a revelation about that strange and incomprehensible object matter, prayed that God would send him enlightenment.
He admitted that he himself did not know, but he believed that the knowledge would come to him by the help of divine grace.
What was it then that came to him?
It must have been something from the depth of his own psyche, something which had been constellated in him by the unknown substances.
For instance, if I am confronted with a person whom I do not understand, I either stare at him or question him, until at last something does occur to me about him.
This something” has been constellated in me through the unknown quality in the object, and is derived partly from him and partly from myself.
Therefore, I must be critical about my hunch and put a question mark against it, for it may be a projection.
In the same way the alchemist, when he was occupied with a chemical substance about which he knew little or nothing, contemplated it until something came to him about it, until he had an intuition, an “Ahnung” in German.
And matter [which was alive and had psychical qualities for him) contained a secret intention, a kind of wish, as if it wanted to be transformed.
When the alchemist was working with the baser elements, with lead for instance, the “Einfall ” came to him that the hidden essence wanted to be freed from the dark, heavy, negative husk; that its secret intention was a transformation into gold, the positive, light and precious form.
The “natura abscondita” of the lead, the particle of the universal soul hidden and imprisoned in the base element, longed for liberation.
This liberation is achieved when the form is produced which represents the highest value (i. e. the element of gold), the only adequate receptacle.
Meister Eckhart expresses the same idea when he says: “The innermost nature of all grain meaneth wheat, and of all metal, gold, and of all birth, man ”
The secret intention, which the alchemist felt in matter, was the psychical element which he met there through projection.
The totally dark and unknown “substance” is the collective unconscious; which is, in its original condition, like an obscure and heavy element and is wholly negative.
Yet, if its negative condition can be overcome, it contains the highest value, the completion of the individual.
It was the “Ahnung” of this, the desire of the alchemist himself to become conscious, which came to him while he laboured with his materials.
But because of his mental condition and of his fascination by matter, he thought he was discovering a principle of matter and not of the psyche.
Therefore, when he was contemplating a substance, this substance would whisper to him that it wanted to be transformed.
When he received the enlightenment, for instance, that lead wanted to become gold, he was obeying an inner command when he tried to bring about this transformation.
This “aspiration” was concealed in the lead, it was a spirit, and the alchemist tried to liberate this spirit from its prison in the ‘ lead.
He also called this spirit aqua or tinctura (water or tincture), and it was through its aid that he tried to transform lead into gold.
This is a mythological idea, an archetypal image of a daimonion, a god or Anthropos, concealed in matter.
In the cheap and vile substance, which can be found everywhere and which is despised, the highest and most precious substance mind is hidden, which longs to be redeemed and to return to its original state of incorruptibility, to the form in which it was originally created and in which it was of the same nature as the creator.
The highest value, the immortal form or soul of things, is compared to gold or to a precious stone, substances which owe their value to the fact that they are not corruptible.
It is difficult for us to enter into these ideas.
We are used to thinking of matter and spirit as of two wholly different and opposite principles. But to the alchemist, the materia was filled with a spiritus, and the two were inseparably one.
Nature, however, had clothed the spirit in a vile form, and the alchemistic opus, in transforming the inadequate form, assisted nature, and led what she has left incomplete to perfection.
The idea of a material substance, containing in itself the striving for a higher form, is evidently a projection of a psychical fact, of an archetypal image concerning man.
For man has the yearning in himself to become what he would call the perfect man.
Or rather, there is the image of a perfect and complete being in his unconscious.
We find a parallel to Yoga here and to the exercitia spiritualia: the idea or feeling that everything in man is striving towards completion.
Therefore, we are not surprised when we learn that the alchemists themselves drew a direct parallel between the imperfection of nature and the imperfection of man, and that they saw in the lapis philosophorum, the perfect materia, an analogy to Christ, the perfect, divine man.
But the outstanding and remarkable characteristic of alchemy is the fact that the alchemists did not search for perfection in man but in matter.
Matter was endowed with a divine soul in their eyes.
This is, of course, a projection, but we cannot make projections, they exist before we are aware of them; they just are.
For example: if I am inordinately vain and do not, or will not, know it, I shall quite certainly reproach a great many people for being vain, or for having other bad qualities.
This projection happens with all our bad qualities of which we are unaware; it also happens with good ones, though not so frequently.
But such a projection can only take place when the other person offers a hook for it.
It may be a very small hook – sometimes it is very large ! – but without a hook no projection can take place.
So we are bound to admit that the alchemist could not have projected into matter if there had been no hook, and it follows that matter must somehow be related to man.
There must be a psychical equivalent of matter preformed in man, and this is our own matter, our physical world: the body, for the body is matter.
Our body consists of chemical elements, and we have a deep inner contact with the essence of matter through the fact that we are in a living body.
This gives us the possibility of feeling our way, as it were, into the inmost kernel of matter, and of learning to know substances from the psychical side.
This then is the unknown, which was constellated in the alchemists through their preoccupation with matter, for the psychical sphere of the body is something unknown.
We do not touch the body directly with our consciousness, but are separated from it through the layer of the unconscious.
The vegetative processes in our bodies, in their normal functioning, cannot be reached by our consciousness or influenced by our will.
The perception of our senses is not sufficient to comprehend the functioning of the body fully; and all the resources of modern science only help us in an external approach.
Between our consciousness and the substance of the body lies the realm of the vegetative psyche, which is an aspect of the unconscious, for the unconscious consists partly of the vegetative psyche.
Inasmuch as they cannot be influenced by consciousness, the functioning of the intestines, the heart, the glands, the whole world of the cerebro-spinal reflexes, and so on, all belong to the vegetative psyche, and lie in the dark, in the unconscious.
It was this physical psyche, this physiological region of the unconscious, which was constellated in the alchemists by their work on chemical matter.
This physical psyche was entirely unknown to them and is still unknown to us.
The unknown in physical matter stimulated the unknown physical psyche.
What then is the meaning of the perfect substance which the alchemist sought to produce?
It can perhaps best be described as an optimum of the life process or as the idea of an optimum.
The alchemist adds that it is a metaphysical and not a physiological optimum, which means that it reaches beyond the human a sphere into the undefinable and metaphysical.
When the lead is dark, grey or blackish, and possesses base qualities, it is in a condition similar to illness.
The alchemist actually calls substances “ill”, in as far as they are corruptible, that is oxidizable, in that they can be dissolved or destroyed by fire or water.
It is mixed substances that are corruptible; pure substances, such as gold, under ordinary circumstances are not oxidizable, and are therefore regarded as incorruptible and immortal.
There are three things which affect the physical body, and which can cripple our lives and entirely change them: death (dissolution of the body], illness (slow destruction of the body], and poverty (insufficient money for food or a decent existence].
These were always held to be the three greatest evils, which can injure man most in his physical well-being.
The goal of the alchemist, therefore, was to produce an elixir of life.
This substance, tincture, or quintessence, when taken as a medicine, would lengthen life to a patriarchal age, to a span of three hundred, or even a thousand years, or even bestow immortality.
It is an Alexipharmakon, an antidote, essence or medicine, which at once paralyses every kind of poison.
For the sick this substance is :miraculous thing, a panacea, the medicina catholica (universal medicine).
For the poor it is gold, and for the mortal body it is longevity.
But the alchemists were not only concerned with curing human beings, they also aimed at curing sick (that is imperfect, corruptible] nature. (It was the tinctura rubra (red tincture), which was necessary for this.]
And further: there are not only illnesses of the body but also illnesses of the soul, diseases of the mind, melancholia, madness and so on.
These are conditions of spiritual darkness and it is the lapis philosophorum (philosophers’ stone] which can help them.
All kinds of shining stones and crystals are used as symbols for the philosophers’ stone: diamond, carbuncle, ruby and so on; and this shining quality is also often called the lumen novum or lux moderna (new light].
But this stone was no mere crystal for the alchemists, they thought of it as something metaphysical, though it had a physical existence as well.
They called it “lapis aetherius” (ethereal stone), “lapis invisibilis” (invisible stone], or “lapis perlucidus” (translucent or transparent stone).
The remarkable thing is, that this stone has not only a body but also a soul, a spirit, and is therefore in this respect similar to man.
So it is often called by human names, such as “infans noster” (our child], “filius noster” (our son], “filius philosophorum” (son of the philosophers) , “homunculus ” or “Anthrop arion” (little man].
Another aspect of the stone leads into a still higher region, for this manikin is no ordinary human being, but a hermaphroditus, it possesses both sexes.
This hermaphrodite is often represented as crowned and winged.
The old alchemical pictures are very enlightening in this respect.
It is important to remember that this hermaphrodite does not merely represent the two sexes, but the opposites in general.
The tremendous tension between the opposites needs a correspondingly strong cement to bring about their union.
There is a poem in an old treatise, the “Rosarium Philosophorum”, which speaks of the stone in a very interesting way.
The hermaphrodite appears here in its feminine aspect and is called the Empress, the first lady in the land.
We must keep in mind that the “Empress” is the philosophers’ stone:
“Here is born the rich and noble empress,
One with their daughter, so the masters say,
She multiplies, bears children numberless,
Immortal, pure and without spot are they.
Death and poverty are hated by this queen,
She doth surpass all jewels however rare,
And also silver, gold and physics all,
Nothing on earth that can with her compare,
To God of Heaven’s realm our thanks we call.”
(Then this hermaphrodite begins to speak herself.)
“Oh, might compelling me, naked woman,
For my first body was indeed unblessed,
To be a mother, never I began,
Till I myself was born again afresh. (A)
The strength of every root and herb I won,
And triumphed over every sickness too, (B)
And there it was that first I saw my son,
For we were born together there, the two. (C)
And of my son I pregnant was,
And b ore him on a sterile ground,
I was a mother, yet remained a maid,
They laughed at me for what they found,
That my own son my father was,
For God in truth hath willed it so,
The mother who gave birth to me,
Came as my child to earth below.
We are as one united naturally,
With master ease the mountain swallowed down, (D)
The four came forth, one yet again to be,
In our complete and more than perfect stone. (E)
And six in trinity bethought,
To an essential substance brought. (F)
And who can reach this kind of thought
A power by God Himself is taught,
All sickness can he bring to naught
In human body and retort.
Without God’s help no man may build,
Self-knowledge too must be fulfilled.
A fountain rises from my earth,
And brings two rivers there to birth,
One flows towards the rising sun,
The other where it sets doth run.
Two eagles rise, their feathers burn,
So naked down to earth return,
And yet again are feathered there ,
The sun and moon its subjects were. ” (G)
(A) This refers to the fact that the first form of the “stone”, the so-called prima materia, is a sick and sterile form, “unblessed” as the poem says. This is the corruptible form of the lead, which is discarded when, as a result of the alchemical opus, she is born again a second time.
(B) All the three evils, death, poverty and sickness, are mentioned here.
(C) She has a son, and this son is herself, and therefore she was born at the same time, and is male and female, mother and son together. “Sie kam mit ihm selbander dar.” She came into the world at the same time that he did.
(D) This needs some elucidation. Mother and daughter, father and son are all to be regarded as one. All these figures are one and the same, a figure which begets itself. The mother is the daughter and her own mother, the father is the son, who is also the father of the father. And this one being has been devoured by the mountain, taken into the gorge of the earth. This reminds us of “the One” in the “Tabula Smaragdina”, whose “strength is perfect when it has turned towards the earth.”
(E) The indistinguishable One has gone into the earth, the body, the Four are inside the body. You will remember that in the eastern texts we also met the problem of One containing Four. Through meditation, through Yoga, the Four are produced out of the One. In the alchemistic process, this is the stage of the separatio or divisio where the four elements are begotten. Separatio symbolises discrimination. One tries to distinguish the four aspects of the One. Discrimination is an act of consciousness. In the unconscious condition, in the mountain, everything is indistinguishably one. Consciousness is orientated towards the four cardinal points, it functions according to four categories. The four functions, as the four elements , arise from an incomprehensible unity. Unconscious contents,in order to become conscious, must also be discriminated by all the four functions. The four elements are again united and become “the On ” in the philosophers’ stone; the universal soul is liberated, the godhead restored. In meditation, in the stage of the coniunctio in the alchemistic opus, the Four, that is the extension into the world of consciousness, is contracted, and the four elements become One again. The philosophers’ stone, the Self, is being produced.
(F) This six is a doubling of three, which makes a well-known sign: the star of D avid. But this figure is to be understood here in its alchemistic sense, the upper triangle is fire and the lower water, a pair of opposites. Where fire and water become one, there is a unio oppositorum, which is really an image of God, for God is the union of opposites. Fire is in itself a uniter of opposites and is a very ancient image for God.
(G) The two eagles fly up out of the streams and fall down again naked on to the earth.
The images in this poem are the purest alchemy.
The miraculous substance (as a coincidentia oppositorum, a union of opposites) has the power in itself to heal all illness in the metals, that is to make imperfect metals perfect, and to heal all sicknesses of the human body as well.
So it is a Saviour.
Naturally this can only be produced by the help of God, and this help is only given to the man who knows and sees through himself, only such a man is capable of producing the “stone”.
You will remember the passages from Richard of St. Victor and Hippolytus.
We saw there that the one who knows himself is on the way to God.
The complete consciousness of one’s own being has a transforming effect.
You will now be able to get some idea of what alchemy really means.
“A fountain rises in my earth ” means that it is from my body that a spring gushes forth.
This is an image which we already know from the New Testament, and it is possible that the passage in this poem was directly inspired by it.
This is uncertain, but it suffices to recall that Christ is spoken of there as the well of living water.
He himself is this fountain, or it is from his body that the living water arises. As JUSTIN THE MARTYR said: “As a spring of living mater from God . . . has this Christ bubbled up”
We might, therefore, almost assume that this idea of the alchemists originated in the New Testament – they frequently quote it literally – but we must not forget that the idea of the divine water is much older than the New Testament.
The hydor theion, the divine water, is a basic idea in Greek alchemy; Berthelot translates it as sulphur water, because the word “theion” is also sulphur.
But the old alchemists knew nothing about sulphur, what they called sulphur was an unknown, miraculous thing to them and so it was designated as divine.
Only the man who can see through himself can build this stone.
As to this self-knowledge, this real penetrating knowledge of our own being, do not make the mistake of thinking that it means seeing through the ego.
To understand the ego is child’s play, but to see through the Self is something totally different.
The real difficulty lies in recognising the unknown.
No one need remain ignorant of the fact that he is striving for power, that he wants to become very rich, that he would be a tyrant if he had the chance, that he is pleasure seeking, envious of other people, and so on.
Everyone can know such things of him or herself, because they are mere ego knowledge.
But Self-knowledge is something completely different, it is learning to know of the things which are unknown.
And when someone learns to know of these, he may say of himself that he is a fountain, from which two streams arise; one flows towards the East, where the sun rises, and the other towards the West, where the sun sets.
These are the opposites which we saw in our poem, two contrary streams flow from man and two eagles arise from them.
These are the volatile substances for the alchemist, he calls them spiritus, spiritual potentialities.
They fly up, fall down again, naked, are re-feathered below and fly up yet again.
These are ideas which we also found in the Tabula Smaragdina. ~Carl Jung, Modern Psychology, Alchemy, Pages 64-72.