Alchemy and the Self

>> Thursday, September 17, 2009


Sometimes certain things come at me from my wanderings that seem like they are intended for me to see at the exact moment I see them. Synchronistic, almost. Today I stumbled, once again, on alchemy. To be clear, any knowledge I have of alchemy is limited strictly to a Jungian perspective (and Full Metal Alchemist).

This is an excerpt from Marie Louise Von Franz, which was referred to in an exceptionally well-written article posted on a blog from an unlikely source: "Carl Jung's" Myspace blog. I've emboldened the meta-message:

"...the mystery of the structure of the universe, was in themselves, in their own bodies and in that part of the personality which we call the unconscious, but they would say in the life of their own material existence. ...They thought that instead of taking outer materials you could just as well look inside and get information directly from that mystery because you were it. After all, you too were a part of the mystery of cosmic existence, so you could just as well watch it directly.

Even further, you could ask matter, the mystery of which you consist, to tell you what it is, to reveal itself to you. Instead of treating it like a dead object to be thrown into a vessel and then cooked in order to see what came out, you could just as well take a block of iron, for instance, and ask it what it was, what its kind of life was, what it was doing, how it felt when melted. But since all these materials are within you, you can also contact them directly and in that way they contacted what we would now call the collective unconscious, which to them was also projected into the inner aspect of their own bodies.

They consulted these powers directly through what they called meditation and therefore most of these introverted alchemists always stressed the fact that one should not only experiment outwardly but should always insert phases of introversion with prayer and meditation and a kind of yoga. With yoga meditation you try to get the right hypothesis, or information, about what you are doing or about the materials. Or you can, for instance, talk to quicksilver, or to iron, and if you talk to quicksilver and iron then naturally the unconscious fills up the gap by a personification. Then Mercury appears to you and tells you who the sun God is. A power, the soul of Gold, appears and tells you who and what it is. (Marie-Louise vonFranz, Alchemical Active Imagination, Spring Pub., Dallas, 1979)."
In my search for understanding myself, I couldn't have asked for a wiser clue. And yet again, it seems I am being told to look within, to gaze inside of myself to find the answers, rather than seek outside authority. I can look inside and wait for my unconscious to materialize the answer I seek.

I always get stuck here though. I say to myself, now, this may be great in theory, but how can I start this process? Its like because I can't understand the inner workings I don't think it'll work. But thinking this way inhibits me from even trying. I think that if I start, from the inside I'll be transformed. Of course it makes sense that from my now perspective of sitting on the outside I can't see how it works. I can't see how it works because I'm on the outside.

I think that finally, FINALLY, I'm starting to get it. The answer is also written in Marie Louise Von Franz's above quote. I don't have to worry. I do need to act. I do need to get out of my brain and onto the floor and meditate. I need to sit still. I need to practice yoga. I need to listen. The act of meditation, of being still will generate the next step, as breathing in necessitates breathing out.

From Jung's "The Red Book"


As a final clarification, I want to say that I don't believe that this path is about exclusively looking within. That's what is so marvelous about the metaphor of alchemy: the exterior is intimately related to the interior. I think that, yes, the exterior world is a manifestation of the interior workings of the psyche (collective and individual), but I think it's more than that. Matter exists. It is real. By manipulating and engaging with it, you can transform your internal life, just as engaging with your psyche can transform your material surroundings. The road goes two ways.

It reminds me of one of Joseph Campbell's favorite phrases he quoted so often, "Thou art that."



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