How to unleash the child of wisdom found within?
The ostensible goal of alchemy is to change base metals or lead into gold. Seen from a psycho-spiritual perspective, this goal can be likened to the transformation of our current state of being, largely based on a restrictive structure loosely referred as the “ego,” to one that is consciously held in unity and wholeness referred to by Carl Jung as the “Self.” Accordingly, changing lead into gold presupposes the existence of a state of mind associated with metal and the egoic personality that is to be transmuted into its ultimate gold-like expression, represented by the alchemists’ Philosopher’s Stone.
Jung referred to the journey from ego to Self as “individuation” whereby an individual becomes distinct from the collective via the integration of the conscious and unconscious aspects of its psychological makeup. In other words, the Philosopher’s Stone is born out of the alchemical integration of lead’s egoic personality into the golden totality of the Self.
Jung proposed that the psyche is composed of three main components: the conscious, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious. The conscious mind is the part that informs and defines our everyday awareness, cemented and delimited by the aforementioned egoic personality or the “I.” The personal unconscious is formed by repressed contents such as feelings, habits, and memories that were at some point too difficult to face and were thus relegated to the backseat of the mind. The collective unconscious is the ancestral and communal psychic heritage of humanity that informs the other two aspects of the mind through images, symbols, and guiding forces or archetypes. Whether we are aware of it or not, the three levels of the psyche inform and influence each other throughout the course of our lives.
It’s important to mention that the unconscious aspects of the psyche are only unconscious relative to the ego. The aspect of the mind that believes to be the totality of who we are, the ego, is but a tiny star amongst the vast firmament of the unconscious mind, populated by originating forces such as dreams, myths, and various symbols of spiritual and religious import.
Having clarified the multilayered nature of the mind may help us better relate to the alchemists pursuit of a golden, more wholesome state of being. Why would we want to engage in such a daunting task to begin with? Both depth psychologists and alchemists alike suggest that the journey of remembering the Self and encountering the Philosopher’s Stone is one of health, fulfillment, and joy.
Although the particular means toward the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone can be as varied as people in the planet, the early alchemists envisioned four distinct stages. These stages are associated with a variety of allegories, images, and specific colors that helped relay the alchemical procedures linked to each stage: melanosis (blackening), leukosis (whitening), xanthosis (yellowing), and iosis (reddening).
Each stage is essential for the transmutation that leads to the birth of the filius sapientiae or “child of wisdom,” the living embodiment of alchemy’s Great Work. However, the nigredo or black phase is often considered the beginning stage, since it announces the presence of unrefined contents in need of transmutation. The black phase of the transformative process cannot commence without awakening to the existence of the mysterious raw material out of which the Philosopher’s Stone is crafted.
In a similar way that the acorn contains the information and potentiality of a mature oak tree, the prima materia or “original matter” contains within itself the end result of the alchemical work ready to be actualized.
Alchemists throughout time have given widely disparate descriptions of the first matter, likening it to all things imaginable: from the moon, honey, or poison, to medicine, dung, or spiritual blood. These are all representations of the primeval source of creation or the fertile waters out of which the world emerged and remains bathed until this day.
The first matter resides in everything, yet is elusive and escapes the sight of the uninitiated. How can we recognize the ancient creative presence dwelling in the world?
The discovery of the prima materia entails waking up to the existence of the world soul and its deep longings stirring within us all. This means breaking through the spell of materiality and linear thinking that fixates on the surface level of things to let ourselves be allured by the never-ending depths of reality. It’s in the depths that the first matter can be found.
First encountering the prima materia is like an aha! moment in which we’re able to pierce through societal impositions that keep the egoic personality in place. An open heart and a soft but determined and imaginative mind are conducive to the aha! moment, often followed by pulsing currents of reverence and gratitude for the mystery that life is.
The prima materia adds enormous amount of depth to a person’s life. As the alchemical procedures enter into effect, previous patterns and old boundaries established by the heaviness of the egoic personality begin to show a certain veneer of artificiality.
Once the prima materia is found, a string of formerly unexplored worlds become accessible. Some of these worlds are full of wonder and delight, allowing the person to feel genuinely joyous perhaps for the first time. In turn, other worlds are inhabited by gross and coarse psychic elements that, at some level, want to be relieved of their heaviness. It’s as if the telos or purpose of those psychic elements is set in motion by the soul’s powerful yearnings of purification and refinement.
Once the gross psychic aspects are witnessed and made present through gentle but persistent observation, the “cooking” process begins, making the calls of the world soul a faithful companion in the evolving Philosopher’s Stone of our daily lives.
The Alchemical Vessel
Alchemists of old often specialized in one or various types of alchemy, ranging from working in the laboratory and elaborating plant elixirs to dealing with spirits of nature and other angelic, god-like beings. These and other types of alchemy, like the more psycho-spiritual approach I’ve briefly presented here, espouse a holographic worldview represented in the widely known alchemical dictum “as above so below.”
Such a way of perceiving the world is elaborated in the Corpus Hermeticum, where Hermes Trismegistus, the patron of alchemy in the West, speaks representing the creator Spirit,
I see myself to be the All. I am in Heaven and on Earth, in Water and in Air; I am in beasts and plants; I am a babe in the womb, and one that is not yet conceived, and one that has been born; I am present everywhere.1
Alchemy sees the world as composed of self-repeating patterns, as if the same original blueprint were the basis of all forms of creation. All creation is connected via the spirit in matter. If an action is performed at a micro scale, say gardening or dealing with the emotional upheavals of our daily lives, the influence would be felt all the way to the macro scale, such as the planet or the solar system.
Regardless of the type of alchemy practiced, there ought be an engagement with the essential nature within all things in order for transformation to take place. One of the names given to this spiritual omnipresent blueprint in relation to the human microcosm is known as anthropos or “first human.”
The anthropos is often referred as a microcosm due to the similarity it holds with the cosmos. Planets, suns, galaxies, wormholes, and dark matter are all contained within the exalted human. This generative pattern repeated at all scales is known mathematically as a fractal, found in the puzzling geometrical formations of trees, clouds, snowflakes, mountains, rivers, coastlines, and more.
The new sciences of complexity and chaos theory, where the concept of fractal is commonly used, seemed to have caught up with ancient alchemical wisdom.
Sacred geometry maintains that a number of patterns were used by the Creator principle to fashion the world. Such patterns have been reproduced throughout history to access the spiritual energies of the cosmos. In Jung’s perspective, these ubiquitous archetypal patterns have a direct influence upon the human mind and are in charge of actualizing the person’s deep potentials.
The anthropos is of main concern when practicing alchemy. When brought to the forefront of our awareness, the “first human” represents the birth of the child of wisdom; the highest spiritual expression of us all, and not just of a few chosen ones.
Although alchemy is often shrouded in obscure symbolism and has historically been practiced in secrecy, the entirety of the Great Work points at you, the reader of these words. Each and every alchemical operation, stage or image is related to your everyday life. You are the alchemical vessel and the gold of your true essence lies underneath your thoughts, in between your breaths.
Alchemy is the living, breathing experience of being guided to conscious transformation by the inherent wisdom of your body, mind, and nature. The anthropos is your inner guide. And the alchemical vessel, the laboratory in which transcendence and integration take place; that is to say, your body and mind in harmonious allegiance with nature and its powers.
- In: Bamford, C. One the all: Alchemy as sacred ecology. In: P. Lamborn Wilson, C. Bamford & K. Townley (Eds.), Green hermeticism: Alchemy and ecology (pp. 29–46). Great Barrington, MA: Floris Books, 2007, p. 39.
Adapted from: Villasenor-Galarza, Adrián. Bioalchemy: On the Intimate Belonging of Nature, Humans, and Soul. CreateSpace, 2015.