Psychology and Alchemy

II. The Spirit in Matter

All these ideas were the common property of alchemy from earliest times. Zosimos, writing in the third century a.d., quotes one of the very oldest authorities on alchemy in his treatise:

“Concerning the Art and Its Interpretation,”namely Ostanes,” who belongs to the dawn of history and was known even to Pliny.

His connection with Democritus, another of the earliest alchemical writers, probably dates from the first century B.C.

This Ostanes is reported to have said:

Go to the waters of the Nile and there you will find a stone that has a spirit. Take this, divide it, thrust in your hand and draw out its heart: for its soul [i/m^] is in its heart [fig. 149].

[An interpolator adds:] There, he says, you will find this stone that has a spirit, which refers to the expulsion of the quicksilver.

Nietzsche’s metaphor in Zarathustra, “an image slumbers for me in the stone,” says much the same thing, but the other way round. In antiquity the material world was filled with the projection of a psychic secret, which from then on appeared as the secret of matter and remained so until the decay of alchemy in the eighteenth century.

Nietzsche, with his ecstatic intuition, tried to wrest the secret of the superman from the stone in which it had Ions been slumbering.

It was in the likeness of this slumbering image that he wished to create the superman, whom, in the language of antiquity, we may well call the divine man.

But it is the other way about with the alchemists: they were looking for the marvelous stone that harbored a pneumatic: essence in order to win from it the substance that penetrates all substances —since it is itself the stone-penetrating “spirit”—and transforms all base metals into noble ones by a process of coloration.

This “spirit-substance” is like quicksilver, which lurks unseen in the ore and must first be expelled if it is to be recovered in substantia.

The possessor of this penetrating Mercurius (fig. 150) can “project” it into other substances and transform them from the imperfect into the perfect state.-‘” The imperfect state is like the sleeping state; substances lie in it like the “sleepers chained in Hades” (fig. 151)

l and are awakened as from death to a new and more beautiful life by the divine tincture extracted from the inspired stone.

It is quite clear that we have here a tendency not only to locate the mystery of psychic transformation in matter, but at the same time to use it as a theoria for effecting chemical changes.

Just as Nietzsche made absolutely sure that nobody could mistake the superman for a sort of spiritual or moral ideal, so it is emphasized that the tincture or divine water is far from being merely curative and ennobling in its effects, but that it may also act as a deadly poison which penetrates other bodies as pervasively as the pneunia penetrates its stone.

Zosimos was a Gnostic: who was influenced by Hermes.

In his missive to Theosebeia he recommends the “krater” as a vessel of transformation: she should, he says, hasten to the Poimandres in order to be baptized in the krater.

This krater refers to the divine vessel of which Hermes tells Thoth in the treatise entitled.

Alter the creation of the world, God filled this vessel with nous (nous = pneuma) and sent it down to earth as a kind of baptismal font.

By so doing God gave man, who wished to free himself from his natural, imperfect, sleeping state (or, as we should say, insufficient consciousness), an opportunity to dip himself in the nous and thus partake of the higher state of errata, i.e., enlightenment or higher consciousness (fig. 159).

The nous is thus a kind of dyestuff or tincture, that ennobles base substances.

Its function is the exact equivalent of the tincturing stone-extract, which is also a pneuma and, as Mercurius, possesses the Hermetic dual significance of redeeming psychopomp-” and quicksilver (fig. 152).

Clearly enough, then, Zosimos had a mystic or Gnostic philosophy of sorts whose basic ideas he projected into matter.

When we speak of psychological projection we must, as I have already pointed out, always remember that it is an unconscious process that works only so long as it stays unconscious.

Since Zosimos, like all the other alchemists, is convinced not only that his philosophy can be applied to matter but that processes also take place in it which corroborate his philosophical assumptions, it follows that he must have experienced, in matter itself, at the very least an identity between the behaviour of matter and the events in his own psyche.

But, as this identity is unconscious, Zosimos is no more able than the rest of them to make any pronouncement about it.

For him it is simply there, and it not only serves as a bridge, it actually is the bridge that unites psychic and material events in one, so that “what is within is also without.”

Nevertheless an unconscious event which eludes the conscious mind will portray itself somehow and somewhere, it may be in dreams, visions, or fantasies.

The idea of the pneuma as the Son of God, who descends into matter and then frees himself from it in order to bring healing and salvation to all souls, bears the traits of a projected unconscious content (fig. 153).

Such a content is an autonomous complex divorced from consciousness, leading- a life of its own in the psychic non-ego and instantly projecting itself whenever it is constellated in any way—that is, whenever attracted by something analogous to it in the outside world.

The psychic autonomy of the pneuma is attested by the Neopythagoreans; in their view the soul was swallowed by matter and only mind—nous —was left.

But the nous is outside man: it is his daemon.

One could hardly formulate its autonomy more aptly.

Nous seems to be identical with the god Anthropos: he appears alongside the demiurge and is the adversary of the planetary spheres.

He rends the circle of the spheres and leans down to earth and water (i.e., he is about to project himself into the elements).

His shadow falls upon the earth, but his image is reflected in the water.

This kindles the love of the elements, and he himself is so charmed with the reflected image of divine beauty that he would fain take up his abode within it.

But scarcely has he set foot upon the earth when Physis locks him in a passionate embrace.

From this embrace are born the seven first hermaphroditic beings.

The seven are an obvious allusion to the seven planets and hence to the metals (figs. 154, 155; cf. figs. 21, 70) which in the alchemical view spring from the hermaphrodite Merc-units.

In such visionary images as the Anthropos glimpsing his own reflection there is expressed the whole phenomenon of the unconscious projection of autonomous contents.

These myth pictures are like dreams, telling us that a projection has taken place and also what has been projected.

This, as the contemporary evidence shows, was nous, the divine daemon, the god-man, pneuma, etc.

In so far as the standpoint of analytical psychology is realistic, i.e., based on the assumption that the contents of the psyche are realities, all these figures stand for an unconscious component of the personality which might well be endowed with a higher form of consciousness transcending that of the ordinary human being.

Experience shows that such figures always express superior insight or qualities that are not yet conscious; indeed, it is extremely doubtful whether they can be attributed to the ego at all in the proper sense of the word.

This problem of attribution may appear a captious one to the layman, but in practical work it is of great importance.

A wrong attribution may bring about dangerous inflations which seem unimportant to the layman only because he has no idea of the inward and outward disasters that may result.

As a matter of fact, we are dealing here with a content that up to the present has only very rarely been attributed to any human personality.

The one great exception is Christ. As the Son of Man, and as the Son of God, he embodies the God-man; and as an incarnation of the Logos by ‘pneumatic” impregnation, he is an avatar of the divine.

Thus the Christian projection acts upon the unknown in man, or upon the unknown man, who becomes the bearer of the “terrible and unheard-of secret.”

The pagan projection, on the other hand, goes beyond man and acts upon the unknown in the material world, the unknown substance which, like the chosen man, is somehow filled with God.

And just as, in Christianity, the Godhead conceals itself in the man of low degree, so in the “philosophy” it hides in the uncomely stone.

In the Christian projection the descensus spirit us sancti stops at the living body of the Chosen One, who is at once very man and very God, whereas in alchemy the descent goes right down into the darkness of inanimate matter whose nether regions, according to the Xeopythagoreans, arceruled by evil and matter together form the Dyad, the duality (fig. 15ft).

This is feminine in nature, an anima mundi, the feminine Physis who longs for the embrace of the One, the Monad, the good and perfect.

The Justinian Gnosis depicts her as virgi above, serpent below™ (fig. 157). Vengefully she strives against the pneuma because, in the shape of the demiurge, the second form of God.

He faithlessly abandoned her. She is “the divine soul imprisoned in the elements,” whom it is the task of alchemy to redeem. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, Pages 295-306.