Alchemy, a much needed insight!



“Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” (NewT:1 Corinthians 11:11-12)

Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose early practitioners’ claims to profound powers were known from antiquity. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher’s stone possessing powers including the capability of turning base metals into the noble metals gold or silver, as well as an elixir of life conferring youth and longevity. Western alchemy is recognized as a pro-to-science that contributed to the development of modern chemistry and medicine.

Alchemists developed a framework of theory, terminology, experimental process and basic laboratory techniques that are still recognizable today. But alchemy differs from modern science in the inclusion of Hermetic principles and practices related to mythology, religion, and spirituality.

Jung’s “first love” among esoteric systems was Gnosticism. From the earliest days of his scientific career until the time of his death, his dedication to the subject of Gnosticism was relentless. As early as August, 1912, Jung intimated in a letter to Freud that he had an intuition that the essentially feminine-toned archaic wisdom of the Gnostics, symbolically called Sophia, was destined to re-enter modern Western culture by way of depth-psychology.

Subsequently, he stated to Barbara Hannah that when he discovered the writings of the ancient Gnostics,

“I felt as if I had at last found a circle of friends who understood me.”

Alchemical Eros

jung transferenceOne of the most fascinating explorations of the psychological analogues of alchemy was given to us by Jung in a lengthy essay not usually classified as one of his alchemical writings, entitled The Psychology of the Transference.

In this study, Jung employed the ten pictures illustrating the opus of alchemical transformation contained in a classic called Rosarium Philosophorum (Rosary of the Philosophers), where the dual powers of the “King” and “Queen” are shown to undergo a number of phases of their own mystico-erotic relationship and eventually unite in a new, androgynous being, called in the text “the noble Empress“.

The term “transference” is used by Jung as a psychological synonym for love, which in interpersonal relations as well as in depth-psychological analysis serves the role of the great healer of the sorrows and injuries of living.

Rosarium_11_fermentatioThe series of images begins with that of the mercurial fountain, symbolizing the aroused energy of transformation and continues with the meeting of the King and Queen, first fully clad and later having relinquished their garments. The lovers thus confront each other with their personae and defenses, but proceed to a meeting in “naked truth“.

The partners then immerse themselves in the ‘alchemic bath‘, thus allowing the force of love to engulf their conscious egos, blotting out rational and mundane considerations. While in this state of passionate engulfment the psycho-sexual union, (coniunctio) takes place. But, contrary expectations, this union, which initially brought forth a newly formed androgynous being, results in death. The spiritual result of love is not viable and, having expired, undergoes decomposition.

It is at this point that the force of commitment to the process (though not necessarily to a particular partner) becomes all-important. By not abandoning the transformation work, the soul of the dead androgyne ascends to heaven, i.e., to a higher level of consciousness, while the body is washed in celestial dew.

Soon the departed soul returns to its earthly body, and the reanimated corpse stands in its full, numinous glory for all to see. A new being is born which is the promised fruit of love, the transformed consciousness of the lovers, formed of the opposites, which are now welded into an inseparable imperishable wholeness.

Shirlee Hall ‘Bathing is one of many alchemical terms. The higher type of gradual method “bathing” means “being suffused with harmonious energy,” while in the very highest type of alchemy it means “cleaning the mind.”‘

The alchemy of love has reached its true and triumphant culmination.

jung_alchemy07In The Psychology of the Transference, Jung has shared with the world his uniquely practical insight not only into the psychological mechanism of love but into the process of the reconciliation of all opposites – emotive, intellectual, physical, and metaphysical. Far more readily understood than his definitive treatise Psychology and Alchemy, this disquisition on the Alchemy of Eros is one of the most lucid and concise treatments of the process of unitive transformation.

Published in 1945, it is not only a worthy successor to his earlier work, but also an excellent primer of the psychological approach to alchemy. In love, as in psychological growth, the key to success is the ability to endure the tension of the opposites without abandoning the process, even if the process and its result appear to have been brought to naught.

mary alchemyIn the mists of the the early Middle Ages, a second alchemist, a woman, played a great part comparable to that of the alchemist Hermes Trismegistos.

Her name was Maria.

Many very early codices refer to the Jewess Maria.

Quotations from her works are to be found in the earliest of writers on alchemy. Her views are treated as expert and exemplary. WOMEN’S HISTORY Mary the Jewess, also known as: Maria Hebraea, Maria Prophetissima, Maria Prophetissa, Miriam the Prophetess; Mariya the Sage; Mary the Prophetess (16th and 17th centuries)

Early source: 4th century alchemist Zosimos of Panopolis, who called her the sister of Moses

More About Mary the Jewess: Mary the Jewess and her alchemical contributions are documented by Zosimos of Panopolis in his text Peri kaminon kai organon (On Furnaces and Apparatuses), which may be itself based on a text by Mary. He also quotes her extensively in The Coloring of Precious Stones.

According to Zosimus and later renderings of Maria’s writings, alchemy was like sexual reproduction, with different metals being male and female. She described the oxidation of metals, and saw in that process the possibility of transforming base metals into gold.

According to Zosimus and later renderings of Maria’s writings, alchemy was like sexual reproduction, with different metals being male and female. She described the oxidation of metals, and saw in that process the possibility of transforming base metals into gold. The saying credited to Mary the Jewess, “Join the male and the female, and you will find what is sought,” was used by Carl Jung.

It is no less difficult to establish the epoch in which Maria the Jewess lived than that of Hermes Trismegistos. Some writers call her Miriam, the sister of Moses. Others regard her as a contemporary of the Jewish alchemist, Theophilus, who writes of the “beautiful stone, pleasing to God,” the stone that leads to the solution of the great mystery. But the period of Theophilus is just as little known as that of Maria, so this is of no help. All we know of the teachings of Maria–some call her Maria Prophetissa–is that she had no knowledge of the philosophy of Democritus. She may have lived before his time, or some hundred of years later, at the time of Aristotle. His philosophical system–the formation of the world out of the four elements of fire, earth, air, and water–harmonize better with Maria’s alchemistic ideas.

In these, old Chaldean learning is mixed with the ideas of Aristotle into a secret alchemistic doctrine confined to the Jewish sages and scholars. In her teachings, Miriam gives the instruction, “Thou shalt not touch the Stone of the Sages, for thou art not of the seed of Abraham.”

The old Chaldean theory was that the metals were compuands of sulfur and quicksilver; it was based on the observation that sulfur was released in the treament of most ores. It was extended by the teaching of Aristotle, who had added to the four elements of Empedocles (fire, water, air and earth) a fifth, the eather (or ether), the spiritual quintessence.

According to Aristotle, the basis of the entire material world was something he called prime or first matter. This was not, as it may first sound, some gray sludge from which the world would gradually evolved. In fact, it was not a substance one could see or touch.

It had no physical existence on its own account.

Alchemy_ElementsHowever, it was the one unchangeable reality behind the ever-changing material world. To give this matter a physical identity and individual characteristics, various stages of form were needed.

The first stage of form, Aristotle believed, was found in the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

The elements, while distinguished from each other, are also related by four qualities. These qualities are dry, moist, hot, and cold.

Each element possesses two qualities, of which one predominates, and each element is linked to two other elements by the quality they possess in common.

Here is how this system applies:

Fire is hot and dry with heat predominating.
Air is hot and moist with moisture predominating.
Water is moist and cold with cold predominating.
Earth is cold and dry with dryness predominating.

The main interest of Aristotle’s theory of the elements from the point of view of alchemy is the idea of change. According to his theory each element can be transformed into another element through the quality they possess in common. In this way Fire can become Air through the action of heat; Air can become Water through the action of moistness; Water can become Earth through the action of coldness; and Earth can become Fire through the action of dryness. It is possible under this theory for an element gradually to complete the circle of change and go from Fire to Air, from Air to Water, from Water to Earth, and from Earth back to Fire, for example. It must be remembered that in all these changes the prime matter behind the form always remains the same.

The next stage of form in Aristotle’s theory was that all physical manifestations in the world are composed of all four elements in different proportions. The varying amount of each element in the composition accounts for the infinite variety of things in the world. Because it was believed that elements could be transformed into other elements, it was only a small step to the assumption that all substances could be changed by altering the proportions of elements that constitute them. It is easy to see how alchemists took up on this idea.

If as they believed, lead and gold consisted of different proportions of the same four elements, what was there to prevent the one being transformed into the other?

Aristotle had another theory that influenced the ideas of alchemists. This was on the formation of metals and minerals. He believed that when the Sun’s rays fell on water, they produced a vaporous exhalation that was moist and cold. This exhalation became imprisoned in the dry earth, was compressed, and finally was converted to metal. All metals that are fusible or malleable, such as iron, copper, or gold, were, according to Aristotle, formed in this way. The formation of minerals, on the other hand, occured when the Sun’s rays fell on dry land. They produced a smoky exhalation that was hot and dry, and the action of the heat produced the minerals. In this category Aristotle included substances that cannot be melted, as well as substances such as sulfur.

Sulphur was regarded as an expression of the fiery element. Maria took it as the basis of her principal processes. This sulphur was referred to in a mysterious phrases, as a stone that is not a stone, a stone so common that everyone sees it but nobody notices it.

Maria the Jewess wrote that God had revealed to her the method of roasting copper with sulphur in order to produce gold. Sulphur was produced from realgar, disulphide of arsenic, which was found in the gold mines. It was considered only reasonable that the use of such initial products must have gold as the final product.

Maria amplified Aristotle’s quintessence theory: she taught that every substance, every mineral, every ore had a body and a soul. Thus in the distillation of sulphur compounds the sulphur drawn off was called the “soul” and the blackish residue was called the “corpse.”

These conceptions persisted in alchemy for two thousand years.


[From The Goldmakers, by K. K. Doberer; pages 21 to 22.]

The Goldmakers speak of another female alchemist: “Two miles from Goslar, by the river Lamme, lies another Benedictine abbey that was famous among alchemists. Here one of the finest works in alchemistic literature is said to have been written, the work of the Lord of Lambspringk, with its finely-wrought verses and its allegorical pictures. No lords of Lambspringk, however, are known of, and it has therefore been reasonably concluded that the name was a pseudonym of a noble who had become a monk in this Lower Saxon monastery. But if we dip a little deeper into the old chronicles, we get another surprise.

In the Benedictine Abbey of Lambspringk there were no monks, only nuns. Our Lord of Lambspringk, who sang so finely for us of “Alchemy,” was not a man at all – he was a nun.” (page 80.)


… out of the mists of doubt and despair emerge the twelve symbolic human types. On their way to the temple of wisdom, to receive their initiation into the mysteries, are they contemplating the new responsibilities awaiting them. It is the beginning of a new phase of life eternal is The entry into the Sanctum Sanctorum Spiritii of the Alchemists . . .The Alchemists’s Handbook

Alchemy, the Ancient Science – by Neil Powell

For centuries a number of men of science and learning spent their lives in the practice of alchemy, searching for a way to change ordinary metals into gold.

  • Why did they try?
  • Did any of them succeed?

We know that alchemists today continue the old tradition and the age-old quest.

  • Will they succeed?

The Chiasm in 1 Corinthinans 11:2-16

In our impatient age, replete with divorce, fickleness, and the pursuit of change, these psycho-alchemical insights are very much needed indeed!


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