Transmodern Alchemical Arte
“Nothing is possible without love, not even the processes of alchemy, for love puts one in a mood to risk everything and not to withhold elements.” –C.G. Jung
By Iona Miller, ART MANIFESTO 2009
“Psyche cannot be totally different from matter, for how otherwise could it move matter? And matter cannot be alien to psyche, for how else could matter produce psyche? Psyche and matter exist in the same world, and each partakes of the other, otherwise any reciprocal action would be impossible. If research could only advance far enough, therefore, we should arrive at an ultimate agreement between physical and psychological concepts. Our present attempts may be bold, but I believe they are on the right lines.” –Carl Jung, AION
“To propose a psychology of Anima Mundi is to invite oneself to a relationship of intimacy with the soul of the world and its objects…From this point of view, the psychic reality of the world’s soul becomes available from the images. There is no way to separate our soul from the souls of others – and by “others” I mean people as well as everything that we can consider an environment. It is, thus no longer possible to work with the classical notion of individuation and its rhetoric of “my travel,” “my process,” “my journeys,” the blind frenetic pursuit of an inner Self, and to ignore the individuation of the soul of the world and its objects. The care of the soul does not necessarily mean introversion or denying the reality of the world, its substance and objects. There is no way to engage in soul-making if we keep ourselves attached exclusively to the Self, and exclude the world.”
–Marcus Quintaes on James Hillman’s Polemics in Archetypal Psychologies (Marlan, 2008)
The topic of ancient and medieval alchemy was, arguably, rescued from obscurity largely through the efforts of C. G. Jung and a few others. Jung spoke of soul as psyche, not in a religious or philosophical sense but as a heightened awareness of subjective realities, a domain of experience.
Image is a direct expression of soul. Jung gleaned psychological illumination from alchemy and other spiritual technologies. The Heart Sutra tells us that ultimately all form is void and void is form, expressing the luminous radiance of the natural mind. All form is emptyness and nondual emptyness is form. All impermanent material forms and conscious states share the same Source.
This is the shining One World (Unus Mundus), the holistic core of alchemical metaphysics which declared that light was the root of matter. And we are THAT. Similarly, physicist Wolfgang Pauli working with Jung, encouraged us to find “a neutral or unitarian language” applicable to both matter and the unconscious, to “overcome the wrong idea that psyche and matter are two things.”
As exemplified in alchemy’s prime directive, “Solve et Coagula,” the raw material of self and world is deconstructed to facilitate emergent self-organization at a higher level. The new emerges from the dying husk of the old self-image. This is nature’s way, as chaos theory has shown us. Nature is a self-sustaining dynamical balance of order and chaos.
Transmodernism follows postmodernism with an optimistic universalism. It reclaims esoterics from the past marrying it with activist visionary foresight. Its features include globalism, glocalism, ecological sustainability, relationship and family issues, self-actualization, spiritual psychology, social conscience and optimism. Some degree of voluntary simplicity follows from seeing nature as sacred. The alchemical perspective is not merely deconstructionist, but paradoxically regenerative — cyclically regenerative, even negentropic. In this sense, alchemy is transmodern though it radically predates that philosophy.
Alchemy is a wisdom tradition. As modern alchemists we can build our lived understanding of alchemy with psychological insights as well as experimental work. The stagnation of the beginning yields to emergent self-actualization, signalled by a complex interactive correspondence system of Hermetic values not otherwise observable. Like the medieval artistae whose medium was the sacred art of alchemy, we pursue the philosophical gold to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary through service to the Living Light.
In this integral philosophy everything is contextual and values are relativized. Emergentism and complexity are cutting edge theoretical vehicles. What happens below (depth, darkness) reveals the significance of what happens above (consciousness, light). The unconscious can be disturbing and ennobling. With a radical perspective, each instant is pregnant with the raw paradoxical experience of the chaotic prima materia and the refined unmoving ultima materia of fundamental or primordial consciousness.
Alchemy explores the nature of matter-energy and consciousness. It is possibly the first historical example of self-initiation, self-help and self-care — conscious self-organization of the human chaotic condition. Though following certain common guidelines, each alchemist’s process is necessarily idiosyncratic. Cultural creatives are engaged just as much in the world as in personal and spiritual issues. In complexity science, entanglement precedes the emergence of order.
Solutions emerge from and through each individual practitioner in a self-empowering inner journey, much as in modern client-centered experiential therapies. Therapy and alchemy are both processes of continuing adult education: “lifelong learning, life wide learning and life deep learning” (Wildman). Alchemy expands the boundaries of self-imposed limits.
Visionary alchemists might be aptly characterized as activists, “Free Radicals.” This proto-science has no priesthood nor hierarchy, relying heavily on intuitive thinking and direct inspiration. They communicate as peers, fellow experimentalists and colleagues in a non-hierarchical way through cryptic cipher texts with allegorical and analogical artwork. Alchemists do bootstrap on one another’s efforts in this ultimately individual pursuit, that is necessarily subjective yet universal.
The structure of our inquiry into the functional matrix is malleable. Soul is a pluralistic expression. We can, in fact, must look at it from many points of view and levels of experience from earthly to cosmic to hyperspace harmonics — “As Above, So Below.” Whether there is a point or purpose to life, alchemy is an organic way of amplifying awareness and meaning while giving value to life. You create it and the universe responds. You and the cosmos resonate as One, making psyche matter.
Alchemy describes, demonstrates and illustrates the participatory field as central to the conscious condition in nature. As alchemists we intentionally engage the participatory field of consciousness to perform the Opus, or Great Work. The concept of this interconnective field allows us to redefine consciousness consistent with the unpredictable values of quantum mechanics and chaos theory. The alchemical world is animated. Intentionally interacting with the experiential process allows us to transform consciousness.