The Alchemists used philosophy and science to try and transform “base metals” to “noble metals” – like lead to gold; almost like magic. This was an unsuccessful process with metals, however, this process became a valuable template for the understanding of our human capacity.
Inked in my skin is the symbol of an alchemical process.
A process that I’ve come to attribute to many things.
This process consists of seven stages of; chemical, physiological, and psychological transformation.
The initial Black Phase of alchemy, during which the subject of transformation is purified by breaking it down – by fire, burning it, reducing it to ashes, after Calcination, the substance at hand is no longer affected by being broken down – fire has no power.
Physiologically, the Fire of Calcination can be experienced as the metabolic discipline or aerobic activity that tunes the body, burning off excesses from overindulgence and producing a lean and efficient body.
Psychologically, this operation involves the destruction of ego and our attachments to material possessions. Calcination is usually a natural humbling process as we are gradually assaulted and overcome by the trials and tribulations of life, though it can be a deliberate surrender of our inherent hubris gained through a variety of spiritual disciplines that ignite the fire of introspection and self- evaluation. In society, the Calcination is expressed in the lives of revolutionaries, conquerors, and other warriors who try to overthrow the status quo.
This is still the Black Phase of alchemy, and the process of purification continues the next circle of Dissolution takes place in the interior or innermost parts.
In the laboratory, the second operation involves dissolving the ashes from Calcination in water, acid, or other solution.
Psychologically, Dissolution represents a further breaking down of the artificial structures of the psyche by total immersion in the unconscious, the rejected part of our consciousness. Within the alchemist, the dissolving Water of Dissolution can take the form of dreams, voices, visions, and strange feelings which reveal a less ordered and less rational world existing simultaneously with our everyday life. During Dissolution, the conscious mind lets go of control to allow the surfacing of buried material and tied up energy. Dissolution can be experienced as “flow,” the bliss of being well-used and actively engaged in creative acts without personal hang-ups or established hierarchy getting in the way. In society, the process of steady growth through gradual Dissolution is exemplified by monastic, nature-based, or agrarian lifestyles.
Physiologically, Dissolution is the continuance of the opening-up of energy channels in the body to recharge and elevate every single cell.
Separation in which we see the first coming together of soul and spirit, and the newly acquired vantage point allows the discernment of what is worthy of being saved from the previous two operations.
Laboratory Separation is the isolation of the components of Dissolution by filtration or fractional distillation and then discarding any impure or unworthy material. It is the isolation of the desired components from the previous two purification operations (Calcination and Dissolution). In the laboratory, the components of the polluted solution from Dissolution are separated out by filtration, cutting, settling, or agitation with air. Any dead or unworthy material is then discarded.
Psychologically, this process is the rediscovery of our essence and the reclaiming of dream and visionary “gold” previously rejected by the masculine, rational part of our minds. It is, for the most part, a conscious process in which we review formerly hidden material and decide what to discard and what to reintegrate into our refined personality. Much of this shadowy material is things we are ashamed of or were taught to hide away by our parents, churches, and schooling. Separation is letting go of the self-inflicted restraints to our true nature, so we can shine through. The process of Separation retrieves the frozen energy released from the breaking down of habits and crystallised thoughts (assumptions, beliefs, and prejudices) and hardened feelings (emotional blockages, neuroses, and phobias). This misspent energy is now available to drive our spiritual transformation. In Society, Separation is expressed as the establishment of clans, cities, and nationalities.
Physiologically, Separation is following and controlling the breath in the body as it works with the forces of Spirit and Soul to give birth to new energy and physical renewal.
In the laboratory, the operation of Conjunction is the recombination of the saved elements from Separation into a new substance. Often this was a forced marriage done by fusing or amalgamating metals or by mixing saved components in a new chemical reaction by the addition of a temporary mediator such as an acid or a catalyst.
Physiologically, Conjunction is using the body’s sexual energies for personal transformation. Conjunction takes place in the body at the level of the Heart .
Psychologically, Conjunction is empowerment of our true selves, the union of both the masculine and feminine sides of our personalities into a new belief system or an intuitive state of consciousness. The alchemists referred to it as the Lesser Stone, and after it is achieved, the adept is able to clearly discern what needs to be done to achieve lasting enlightenment. Often synchronicities begin to occur at this stage that confirm the alchemist is on the right track in his or her personal transformation. In society, it is the growth of crafts and technology to master the environment.
Like natural fermentation, alchemical Fermentation is a two-stepped process that begins with Putrefaction, which in which the matter is allowed first to rot and decompose and then to ferment or come alive again in spirit.
Laboratory Putrefation begins with the rotting of the plant material or substance of transformation. The sign that Putrefaction is nearing its end is a milky white fluid that appears like a tunnel of white light in the black, rotting material. The dead material seems to come to life again with an influx of digesting bacteria, as Fermentation begins. This is the introduction of new life into the product of Conjunction to revive and rejuvenate it in a process of spiritisation.
We see this process most clearly in the making of wine. First, the grapes are “sacrificed” or crushed to release their essences in the juice. Then, Putrefaction begins as the juice is allowed to decompose and rot. Next, a white layer of digesting bacteria arises that begins the process of Fermentation. Finally, the new life force “conquers” the original identity of the grape juice and supplants it with a new and higher presence or life. This higher presence is release during the next operation (Distillation), which produces the true Spirit of Wine (its alcohol), which contains the purified essence of grapes.
Psychologically, this process is the death of the feeble (or unstable) Child of the Conjunction that will eventually result in its resurrection to a new level of being. Fermentation starts with the inspiration of spiritual power from Above that reanimates, energises, and enlightens the alchemist. Out of the blackness of the alchemist’s despair (Putrefaction) comes a brilliant display of colours and meaningful visions. Fermentation can be achieved through various activities that include intense prayer, desire for mystical union, breakdown of the personality, transpersonal therapy, drugs, and deep meditation. Thus, personal Fermentation is living inspiration from something totally beyond us. In society, the Fermentation experience is the basis of religion and mystical awareness.
Physiologically, Fermentation is the rousing of living energy in the body to heal and vivify. It is expressed as vibratory tones and spoken truths emerging from the Throat.
Distillation is a key process on all levels of alchemy. It involves releasing volatile essences from their prison in matter and condensing them in a purified form. In practical terms, this involves heating a substance until it boils, and then condensing the vapours into a purified liquid.
In the laboratory, Distillation is the boiling and condensation of the fermented solution to increase its purity, which is why this is known as the White Stage of alchemy.
Psychologically, this agitation and sublimation of psychic forces is necessary to ensure that no impurities from the lower personality are incorporated into the next and final process.
The alchemists thought of this phase as working with the heavenly substance Mercury to extract and refashion the metals. The Ferment, the soft amalgam or balsam resulting from this operation must be hardened into a Stone before it can be made permanent, and the final phase of Distillation is a Sublimation in which vapour turns solid, or the spirit is made corporeal. Chemical Distillation is the boiling and condensation of a solution to increase its concentration and purity. Chemically, it is the boiling and condensation of the fermented solution to increase its purity, such as takes place in the distilling of wine to make brandy.
Psychologically, Distillation is the agitation and sublimation of psychic forces is necessary to ensure that no impurities from the inflated ego or deeply submerged id are incorporated into the next and final stage. Personal Distillation consists of a variety of introspective techniques that raise the content of the psyche to the highest level possible, free from sentimentality and emotions, cut off even from one’s personal identity. Distillation is the purification of the unborn Self — all that we truly are and can be. In society, the Distillation experience is expressed as science and objective experimentation.
Physiologically, Distillation is raising the life force repeatedly from the lower regions in the cauldron of the body to the brain (what Oriental alchemists called the Circulation of the Light), where it eventually becomes a wondrous solidifying light full of power.
In alchemical metallurgy, the baser metals are transformed into incorruptible gold during this stage. In many alchemical experiments, Coagulation is the precipitation or sublimation of the purified Ferment from Distillation.
On the mental level, Coagulation is first sensed as a new confidence that is beyond all things, though many experience it as a Second Body of golden coalesced light, a permanent vehicle of consciousness that embodies the highest aspirations and evolution of mind. Coagulation incarnates and releases the soul, the Astral Body. The alchemists believed they could exist on all levels of reality. In society, it is the living wisdom in which everyone exists within the same light of evolved consciousness and knowledge of Truth.
On the bodily level, this stage is marked by the release of the Elixir in the blood that rejuvenates the body into a perfect vessel of health. A brain ambrosia is said to be released through the interaction of light from the pineal gland and matter from the pituitary. This heavenly food or viaticum both nourishes and energises the cells without any waste products being produced. These physiological and psychological processes create the Second Body, a body of solid light that emerges through the Crown.. On the planetary level, Coagulation is a return to the Garden of Eden, this time on a higher level in tune with the divine mind.
Photo Credit Illusion