Alchemy and Individuation

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. ~ Jesus

Alchemy pertains to the process of transmuting base metals to silver or gold. The search for the ‘gold’ in each person was a fundamental focus of late psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s work. Jung saw in the writings and symbols of alchemy a parallel to his psychological theories. For Jung, alchemy represents the circular process of individuation, in which internal opposing conflicts, and the conscious and unconscious is assimilated and integrated.

The internal process of individuation, aka the journey towards wholeness, is reflected in alchemy.

We begin at the seed level with our prima materia, or primary substance. It is our original material from whence we came, and it is paradoxically where we both begin and end our process of individuation.

Jung remarked, “There is no rebirth of consciousness without pain”.

Accordingly, an internal cross roads may precipitate a willingness to consciously submit the prima materia to the courageous process of transformation.

We fall from grace. The bottom falls out. A harsh awakening occurs which precipitates great psychological change and opens us up to inner exploration. It is then we ask the deeper questions about life, ourselves, and feel compelled to examine our fantasies and dreams. We venture into the realm of facing our sources of oppression, and the illusions, fears, and defenses that prevent the fragile ego from being crushed.

If we are fortunate the fires of calcination attack the ego so that ultimately purification, acceptance, and humility results. Calcination is where material and fire meet so that metal is extracted from ore. Psychologically, it is through this fiery confrontation with the self that volatile elements of the personality are ‘burned out’.

The terrifying primordial process of Calcination brings one’s shadow into conscious awareness for the purpose of integration.

What doesn’t suit our self-image we relegate to a less intrusive place.These rejected parts of us become our ‘shadow’. Our shadow self festers and lurks in the recesses of our subconscious, feared by the ego and split off from conscious expression. Bringing the shadow out of exile allows for an unearthing of vital aspects of the concealed self, in which mysterious gifts and talents and sources of creative potential seek realization.

Jung said, “To confront a person with their shadow is to show them their own light.”

Similarly, Jungian analyst and astrologer Liz Greene stated, “The shadow is both the awful thing that needs redemption, and the suffering redeemer who can provide it”.

We meet our darkness and it humanizes us and allows us to actualize our buried potentials. We can now diffuse our projections and free ourselves of guilt and shame. The ashes from the calcination process represent the inauthentic false aspects of the self. What is artificial has been burned away and all pretentiousness is broken down.

In the dissolution stage the ashes are washed away and the unconscious is ‘baptized’. Here we venture into the watery realm of the unconscious. Dream analysis, meditation, creative expression, and immersion in the world of imagination and fantasy characterize this process.

The primal energy of the unconscious helps to dissolve rigidity and judgment. We become more fluid and cleansed. We become more real.

As we travel our journey of individuation, our sense of self becomes less contaminated by projection and we move closer towards our essence. We continue to face the darkness and willingly allow fantasy and illusion to die.

With a new consciousness of who we are, we can choose what we need to release so as to allow one’s true nature to fully emerge. This sorting though, or separating our true essence from superfluous outmoded ways of being, fosters the ability to temper the tenacious need for security. We risk revealing ourselves with all our beautiful defects and strengths.

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

This state of solidification is known alchemically as coagulatio. The personality has evolved to a stable and durable state of maturity and self-awareness. The lower and higher selves have unified and wholeness results.

Jung references the myth of the hieros gamos aka the sacred marriage, to describe the unification of opposites, as the animus (masculine) joins with the anima (feminine). In alchemical terms the hieros gamos aka the sacred marriage is referred to as coniunctio.

Here we are brought full circle back to the alchemical dictum, “In filth it will be found.” Indeed, through the process of psychological excavation we confront, assimilate and refine our darkness so as to exhume the metaphorical gold at our core.

To have one’s Self, precipitates an expanded sense of consciousness. The ego is now ready to attach to the abstract plane beyond the sensory world. One’s solid sense of identity is raised to a higher level and the Spirit hidden in matter reveals itself. We are ready to transcend the self. As a result our quest for meaning takes on more far-reaching implications.

Dualistic thinking kept us separate and polarized. As poet Anne Waldman wrote: The problem with you /Is the problem with me / The problem thinking we’re so different / The problem is how to perceive….

At this stage of our journey it is interconnectedness and inclusivity that aligns with our soul’s purpose. Compassion and an all-encompassing respect for diversity and dignity brings us full circle to our spiritual nature where the love of Self extends itself to the love of all mankind.

NYC Therapist & Author. Complex Trauma & Addiction. Dual citizen, traveler, lover of art and nature. I appreciate the absurd.

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