Modern Psychology: C. G. Jung’s Lectures at the ETH Zürich, 1933-1941
Lecture V 30th May, 1941

We began to speak about “meditation” in the last lecture and I have still some excerpts to read from the writings of the alchemists on this subject.

MICHAEL MAIER (a famous alchemist who lived at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth centuries) says:

“Chemistry inspires those who practise it to meditate on heavenly things.”

Here again we see that the alchemistic opus is not just a laboratory work, but also a religious exercise. Meditation on “heavenly things ” must refer to spiritual things.

The next passage comes from a medieval lexicon of alchemistic terminology and concepts, compiled by a Dr. RULANDUS.

Under the word “meditatio” he says:

“The word meditation is used, when someone holds an inner dialogue (colloquium) with someone else who is invisible, and also when God is invoked, or when someone speaks to himself or
to his good angel.”

Those of you, who heard my lectures on the Ignatian exercises, will remember that the term “colloquies” is also used in those exercises: dialogues take place with the chief figures in the world of
Christian imagery, with the Mother of God, with Christ or with one of the saints.

These inner conversations are called colloquies, but are not described as meditation in the Ignatian exercises, whereas Rulandus definitely defines meditation as an inner conversation with a “vis-a-vis”.

He does not say whether these inner figures answer, but there is sufficient proof in the alchemistic literature for us to conclude that they did.

In the Ignatian exercises such conversations are one-sided, we are never told that anybody answers which would be rather essential in a “colloquium”.

But the alchemists really try to establish an objective relation to a “second” in their meditation, and this “second” has been regarded since olden times as the so-called “paredros”, a spiritual
helper, who is present during the work and who gives instructions.

There is a text where the “spiritus Mercurii” first appears as a vapour which gradually condenses until it takes on a more or less recognisable human form.

This figure is a typical ghost, and agrees with the descriptions of ghosts which we find in all places and all ages.

There is an excellent collection of such apparitions in the book “Phantasms of the Living “.

This book consists of two thick volumes, which give the reader an unsurpassable insight into the phenomenology of such apparitions.

The purpose of the book is to corroborate the existence of telepathy and similar things, n-at primarily to describe the apparitions.

But all such phenomena are exceedingly important for every psychologist and for all those interested in psychology, for they have played a considerable role in human culture since the
earliest times.

Every culture has recognised the existence of such phenomena, and it is only the interpretations which differ.

And so we find them in alchemy also, and the fact is recorded that in deep meditation a dissociation occurs between the ego and a “second”, that takes on the form of an inner figure, or represents
Something quite objective which will answer questions or produce enlightening remarks.

Sacrifices were even made to this “paredros” in antiquity, and there are instructions in the literature as to how these figures can be conjured, called up or cast out.

I have already mentioned that it is usually a matter of the spirits of the planets which correspond to the substances used, or those. which play a special role in the horoscope of the alchemist.

The planets were regarded then as gods or spirits, and not just as stars, as we think of them today.

We must never forget to reckon with the fact that the psyche was projected into practically everything.

Meditation then, as defined by Rulandus, does not merely consist of reflecting about the meaning of the authentic books, nor about the nature of the substances on which the alchemists were
working, but it also reveals the presence of a personification of the unconscious.

We find quite a different use of the term meditation in the writings of a later seventeenth century alchemist, which is nevertheless also very typical of the peculiar psychology of alchemy.

This author speaks of a “nova volatilitas” and says:

“”The stone will meditate a new volatility.”

The volatility of matter means that it is vapourisable.

This sentence occurs in a passage which is concerned with a volatile substance that has solidified, and is now considering a condition of new volatility, as if the substance itself could meditate.

This is a pure projection of psychical events into matter.

A substance meditating seems a ridiculous idea to us, but it was not to the mentality of those days.

On the primitive level every stone, tree or animal can have a soul, or can suddenly develop a voice.

At any moment a tree or a stone can become animated, and such an occurrence is no miracle to the primitive, but merely belongs to the course of nature.

And in the seventeenth century, it was still more or less self-evident that the substances with which the alchemists were working should suddenly take on the nature of animated beings.

It is from this fact that the legends of the hob goblins arise.

My compatriot, Paracelsus, was absolutely convinced of the reality of these hobgoblins, who appeared to the miners and workmen in the darkest parts of the mines.

We find similar phenomena on the sea, such as the “Klab autermann” that appears to sailors before a storm or an accident.

He is also a kind of homunculus, and such figures are either a direct animation of some object or appear independently in nature.

The fylgias in the Icelandic saga are another example.

I know of such phenomena myself with quite normal Swiss people who saw a homunculus of the mountains during a mountain accident.

In the same treatise we read:

“If thou wilt meditate deeply on that which I have indicated here, thou wilt have the key which will enable thee to solve all the seeming contradictions between the philosophers.”

You see here that meditation requires deep reflection on all those riddles which the alchemist encounters in the alchemistic treatises with their contradictory style.

The contradictions dissolve through meditation.

So we must assume that these contradictions, which are frequent in the literature, are symbolical expressions, which become clear when one penetrates behind them and finds out what is
really referred to.

Another author says:

“It requires deep meditation, before thou canst understand our sea and its ebb and flow.”

The mystery, which should be fathomed during the meditation, is called “our sea” in this passage.

The sea of the alchemists is an old and well known symbol for the unconscious; that is, it really represents the unconscious , but in the language of the alchemists “our sea” refers to the
“humidum radicale” (radical humidity) in the substances, the soul of matter.

This again is a projection of the existence of the soul which the human being feels within himself.

If we translate “our sea” as the unconscious, this passage tells us that there are tides in the unconscious.

Phenomena, which could be metaphorically compared with ebb and flow, do actually take place in the unconscious: sometimes it is nearer to us and sometimes further away.

In other words: there are times when there is a danger that consciousness may be flooded by the unconscious, at other times this danger do{es not exist or is at least much less acute.

This is particularly obvious with primitive people, though we can also see it in ourselves; there are certain seasons when the unconscious has a general tendency to gain the upper hand.

Advent is such a classical time, it has been known since olden days as a season when evil spirits are abroad.

There is a saying in the Canton Lucerne even today that Wotan’s host is out or abroad.

Presumably such ideas are connected with the longest nights, when the sun sets at its earliest.

It is a piece of natural life which has survived till today.

Blackouts were general, you must remember, before the discovery of gas and electricity, and man was forced then to live with nature.

Oil was very expensive, and burning chips unreliable and short lived, so people went to bed with the cocks and hens.

Human consciousness blacks itself out, so to speak, at the beginning of the winter, and the unconscious overcomes the conscious as the night overcomes the day.

This is the reason why the night is always the time when things become uncanny, for the light of the conscious has been blacked out.

Such things are more obvious with primitives, for we have fallen somewhat out of mature with all our technical novelties, and have become less aware of the night.

Yet children often suffer from night terrors, and how many women look under their beds or into the cupboard before going to bed?

And these people are civilised Europeans, not primitives!

It is as Faust says: “Es eignet sich, es zeigt sich an, es warnt . . . . Die P£orte knarrt, und niemand kommt herein.” (It becomes peculiar, it announces itself, it warns. . The door creaks and no one enters.)

This passage describes a typical nocturnal phenomenon, the fear of darkness, and this is the reason why the primitive has a totally different “Weltanschauung” in the night than in the day.

Ghosts are abroad at night, unheard of things can happen, and the slightest noise lets loose a panic.

We rationalise such noises as burglars, but many people, who would ridicule the idea of ghosts by day, believe in them at night.

These are “ebb and flow” phenomena and, like the tides, they have some connection with the moon.

We say that people are moonstruck, and epilepsy is supposed to be connected with the moon.

The mentally diseased are still called lunatics in English, and their hospitals lunatic asylums (luna = moon).

It is clear, therefore, why our author says that it re quires deep meditation in order to unravel the secret of the unconscious.

In summing up the alchemists’ point of view with regard to meditation, I must point out that in one respect all meditation is similar.

It is a kind of submersion, a method of psychical submersion, with which the idea of spiritualisation is connected.

Spritualisation is prepared through meditation: “The stone will meditate a new volatility”.

The purpose of the meditation of the alchemists is also spiritualis, but in contrast to the other methods of meditation which we studied here – those of Yoga, Mahayana Buddhism and the
Ignatian excercises – the subject of meditation in alchemy is something unknown, and not a known dogmatic formula.

You will remember the very dogmatic injunctions for imagining the Amitabha Land, the Buddha and so on in the Amitayur-Dhyana Sutra.

There is nothing of the same kind in alchemy, the subject of meditation is a mystery, and the alchemist must meditate in order to understand this mystery.

He has no idea what he should imagine, and he has only a highly contradictory terminology at his disposal.

When he thinks about this secret it is unknown to him, he has no idea what it is.

He does not meditate on his sins or his plans, nor does he, so to speak, think about himself at all, but he thinks about the unknown element in the world, in the substances and in himself.

The object of his meditation is essentially unknown, and his meditation serves the purpose of perceiving this unknown, of making it clearer, and of gaining certain images of it.

In other words: meditation is making his unconscious conscious.

I read you a passage from Dorneus where he said the essential thing for the alchemist was to know himself, and to find out who he really was.

Dorneus became conscious that the secret was not merely in matter but was also in man.

There are many such passages in the old authors, where they definitely state that man, as well as chemical matter, contains the origin of the mysterious substance which becomes the philosophers’

Meditation is intrinsically a method of understanding for the alchemists; they hope, through the application of meditation, to become aware of certain mysteries which are intangible and invisible.

The knowledge, which they thus acquire, they call the “scientia”.

VIII. Scientia

I have collected a further series of excerpts from the alchemistic writings on this subject, in which we shall also meet some very peculiar things.

Alphidius says:

“The food of whoever finds this knowledge will be legitimate and eternal”

Alphidius is an author who lived perhaps as early as the thirteenth or even the twelfth century.

Very likely he wrote in Arabic or Hebrew, but this is uncertain.

In any case he refers in this passage to Leviticus “All the males among the children of Aaron shall eat of it. It shall be a statute forever in your generations concerning the offerings of the Lord made
by fire: every one that toucheth them shall be holy.”

The idea of a legitimate and eternal food is to be found in both passages.

“The food”, in the text of Alphidius, is the unleavened bread of Leviticus, which “shall be a statute forever in your generations.”

One might perhaps assume that Alphidius was a Jew, for there were a great many Hebrew treatises written in Spain during the time of the Moors, and Alphidius belonged to that region.

This knowledge” is equal then to an eternal, legitimate food of life, a food which bestows life.

It is found through meditation, and is a panacea which enriches life and makes it fuller or healthier.

This is something which we experience also.

It is when our lives have become so flat and meaningless that we can hardly go on living, that the moment comes when we turn to the unconscious and to our dreams and phantasies.

We meditate on these in order to discover the contents of the unconscious, and to find a new meaning in life.

The result is something very similar to receiving a “legitimate and eternal food”, the right food which reanimates life, for everything depends on our attitude to it.

Even a very bad situation can change when we look at it differently.

The “Aurora Consurgens” asks the question:

“What is the science? It is the gift and sanctuary of the Deity, it is a divine thing, and is hidden by the Wise in symbolical words and in many ways.”

This author is quite sure that the contradictory statements of the alchemists are made with the purpose of expressing this thing, but in such a way that no one can understand.

One is never certain, when one reads these texts, whether the author has really understood something, and is expressing himself symbolically in order to keep it a secret, or whether he has not
really understood himself, and is expressing himself as clearly as he can.

The subject is exceedingly difficult, for it really is a mystery.

What is the unconscious?

Whenever we speak of it, we express ourselves involuntarily in a peculiar metaphorical language in order to get somewhere near its character.

So it is possible that these people were speaking as clearly as they could in their language, and the reader who knew understood.

When I was reading these texts I often thought: “Yes I know what you mean”, but I was never absolutely sure that I did, till I came on an old treatise which was underlined and had marginal notes in an
old handwriting, which probably belonged to the early seventeenth century.

Just those passages were underlined that I should have underlined myself, I could have read the meaning of the whole treatise from the places he had marked.

Then I knew that we both understood the text in the same way.

In one obscure passage, for instance, just as I came to the conclusion that the author meant the devil, I came on the marginal note “Diabolus”.

But on the other hand, when a certain monastery sold all its alchemistic books (assuming they were nonsense) I came across a book which a monk had read in his old age.

He also had underlined in red pencil, but exactly the places which I should not have marked, namely the passages concerned with gold making.

This interest in gold was a grievous sin against the fundamental spirit of alchemy; this monk was evidently too fond of money, in spite of living in a monastery.

Another Father wrote of him: “He studied this book for several years but it did him no good.

“I thought: “Naturally not with such a point of view”, but it was really impossible that anyone who lived in the Catholic world of the eighteenth century should understand.

The anonymous author of the “Aurora Consurgens” says further “The science is nothing less than a gift of God and a sacrament.”

The manuscript of this text, which we have in Zurich, belongs to the fourteenth or even the fifteenth century, but the original text, judging by its whole character and make up, must have belonged to
about the end of the thirteenth century.

The chief authority quoted is St. Thomas of Aquinas (1225-74) .

One must keep the date in mind, and also the fact that the author was a cleric.

When such a man calls the science of the alchemists a sacrament, one cannot take it seriously enough; for in those days and in that milieu it was the strongest expression which the author could possibly
have used to describe a mystery.

The author continues:

“There are three precious words in which the mystery is concealed. These must be given to the devout, namely the poor, from the first to the last man.”

These words are an allusion to an alchemistic tradition of which you may have heard, namely the Aurea Catena (the golden chain).

This chain reaches from the earliest dawn of mankind into the most distant future, and consists of people who know the secret.

One hands on the golden bucket secretly to the next and the chain stretches through all ages.

The science, according to this author, is a sacrament, a divine mystery, so these “three divine words” in which it is concealed are thus made equal to the Gospel.

And therefore it must be given to the poor in spirit.

These same poor were also mentioned by Joannes de Rupescissa, as “les pauvres hommes evangelisans”; who, as we saw, were the alchemists themselves elves.

Alchemy is a sort of divine message, a gospel, to these “poor men”, a science which comes from God and must be handed on secretly from one to the next down the ages.

These “three precious words” refer to a treatise which is possibly of Arabic origin, though this is rather uncertain.

The treatise is ascribed to one of the older so-called “arabizantes”, KALID BEN YEZYD, who is presumably a legendary authority. It is called the “Liber trium verborum Kallid acutissimi ” (the book of
three words by the most intelligent Kallid.)

These three precious words are
elucidated in the treatise. I will read you a passage from it: (The art consists of three words:

“It is said that the water preserves the foetus for three months in the uterus. The air warms it for three months. The fire preserves it for the same length of time. And all this is said as a parable
of Mercury. And this word, discourse and dark way of speaking are made known in order that the truth should be seen.”

The author claims here to have disclosed the secret in order that one might see the truth; but naturally it is all very obscure.

We can make out, however, that it is a matter of the three elements: water, air and fire, and that mercury is being spoken of. Mercury, as the metal, could represent the earth, so we may assume
that this pregnancy produces the fourth element, the earth.

In other words it is the fourth element which alchemy is concerned with.

This is a very important hint. The idea of three plays a considerable role in the whole of alchemy, particularly in medieval alchemy where the triad is directly called the “ternarius supernaturalis”
(the supernatural triad), and is termed the gift of God.

The pneuma, the mind (which deals with matter) has a part in the divine pneuma, the divine triad, whereas the fourth is the earth.

Psychologically the earth always refers to the body, for the body consists, so to speak, of earth.

We can therefore assume, psychologically speaking, that the object which is to be transformed in alchemy is connected with the human body: it is a mystery of the body.

You know that the unconscious has a great deal to do with the body, many symptoms of a bodily nature, for instance, are directly caused by the unconscious.

There are certain disturbances of the unconscious, in the sympathetic system, which produce symptoms exactly like organic disturbances.

I once saw a case where forty centimeters of the large intestine (colon des cendens) had been removed, because, as the result of a disturbance in the sympathetic system, a paralysis of the large
intestine had set in, so the surgeon had simply cut out forty centimetres.

Three weeks after the operation,’ when the patient was getting up, the trouble began again at the hitherto normal end.

This was too much and, not wanting to have the whole of her inside cut out, the woman came to consult me.

She brought her X-ray plates with her, showing a really horrible condition, but it was simply a disturbance in the sympathetic system.

I was able to assure her that she would survive it, and it got better through psychological treatment.

It had been quite unnecessary to cut out those forty centimetres.

I do not want to assert that all illness comes from psychological disturbances, but amazing things do happen.

The unconscious can cause eruptions of the skin, for instance, and even tuberculosis, and when one sees such things one realizes how much the unconscious affects the body.

It is therefore possible to reach the body through the unconscious, the old hypnotists and magnetisers knew long ago that one could bring about the most marvellous changes through hypnotic suggestion.

This procedure is very archaic but one can reach the unconscious with such arts, whilst the Latin and Greek terminology of modern medicine makes no impression whatever up on it.

Stinking ointments, however, and even the laying on of hands, reach the unconscious and then it reacts, but it merely despises our modern erudition and academic style. M

y respected predecessor, Paracelsus, said similar things; he also told the doctors, in his language, that they should use prescriptions which would impress the unconscious .

We must honour the sciences, but the vital thing in illness is to respect the nature of the patient.

In such matters, the alchemists, as you see, came on the track of highly modern things. ~Carl Jung, ETH, Pages 171-178.