PSYCHOLOGICAL ALCHEMY by Iona Miller
“When the light of the Sophia had mixed with te darkness, it caused the darkness to shine.” Sophia’s Prayer of Repentance from The Apocryphon of John
“The precious goals of alchemy are neither phsyical achievements…nor metaphysical truths…We are not in the realm of metaphysics or physics.” –James Hillman, “Concerning the Stone”
The Metaphoric, Rational & Philosophical Alchemy
We cannot accurately assess the actual historical phenomenon of alchemy, since even in the past each alchemist had his own peculiar interpretation of process and results. This problem remains today, embodied in those who claim and insist to have found the Stone of the Wise.
The history of the Stone is concerned as much with failure to find or hold onto the Stone as much or more than realizing its promise as the process/goal. That is what drives and transforms ourselves in the inner quest. We are mortified, depressed and astonished again and again by our hubris and the opacity of our denial. Sometimes we heartily believe we have found the Stone only to lose it in an even deeper realization of vanity.
We can and do presume alchemy sought an objective, universal truth with the prospect of immediate insight into the nature of creation, not as a primordial event in deep time but as the ever-present living truth. Which alchemy one practices depends on whether one is primarily a psychologist, a scientist, artist, metaphysician, spagyrist, or fusions thereof.
The conscious visionary thought of the alchemists produced speculative images and ideas with a persistence of corresponding thematic material. If two viable theories (or more) seem to contradict one another, they must conceal a deeper secret in their apparent contradiction. This is as true among post-Jungians as physicists and alchemists.
The senses inform our phenomenal experience but so does the unconscious through the mind’s speculative and poeitic thought. Much to our surprise we often find we know more than we thought we know because of the vast reservoir behind the mind. Rather than antithetical to image, thought embodies the soul of the image itself. There is light in the darkness and darkness in the light. This is particularly true of the dark luminescence of the image of the Philosophers Stone. Jung called the Stone, “the light of darkness itself,” which illuminates its own darkness…[and] turns blackness into brightness.”
Philosophy, art and science are not opposed, but illuminate one another in a deeply meaningful way by embodying our liveliest thoughts. If this is projection, it is projection of the loftiest sort, as a means of moving toward the as-yet-unknown. It is not clear which is more fundamental when we consider ‘image’ in a radical way. Both are grist for the mill. Our challenge is to extract the imagery from our thoughts and clear thinking from imagery, including that which relates to the nature of matter and ourselves through self-work.
This is the domain of Psychological Alchemy, as outlined by Jung and developed in the alchemical writings of the post-Jungians. Rather than negating meta-theories, it opens their imaginal content which amplifies their meaning, potentially leading to practical new discoveries. We can still take physics philosophically as if it were still natural science. We have to open ourselves to the call of the Stone. New insight, even unexpected or unwanted, can come from any discipline through the marriage of subject and object, spirit and matter, through synchronicity or the unus mundus. Our challenge is to avoid the one-sidedness of abstract language or the narrow point of view of isolated disciplines. Ours is a multi- or transdisciplinary approach.
Symbol can give rise to thought just as thought can give rise to symbol. Which is given priority is a matter of personal and philosophical orientation. Image and metaphor cannot be reduced, and thought, including theories, can be approached imaginally. The battle between spirit and soul, thought and image is an old one, and influences our notions of best practice in alchemy, depending on our psychological type. We may be most interested in experimentation (sensation), clear insight (thinking), felt-sense subtle bodies (feeling), intuitive revelations and creative speculative thought (intuition).
Combinations thereof will color our approach, depending on which we resonante with and which are our forte. Naturally, our best efforts remain full of darkness, often due to the vagaries of language itself and limitations of even mathematical theories. This darkness that shines is more than metaphorical itself — it is primordial awareness.
In science, substance speaks for itself given the chance. We abstract matter from our image of creation. Psyche’s need to substantiate is contained within the entire panoply of scientific endeavor, but substantiating psyche is not its aim, which is to discover the true nature of reality and its immutable laws. But many disciplines have revealed the need of substance to speak, and such is the case in the philosophical/experimental discipline of alchemy.
Primordial awareness combines the direct felt-sense of the natural mindbody, the ground zero of thought, the creative root of intuition, and the biophotonic reality of our sensate embodiment. Throughout all the eras mankind has sought the Stone, our biophotonic nature was locked within us, waiting to be discovered as an objective reality. Nevertheless, the stone that is not a stone remains an enigma, which does not yield to understanding and cannot be held in a few simple meanings, including eidetic moments of shining truth, or the ‘isness’ of things, a created self or purified consciousness.
The Stone is linked to the lumen naturae, the luminous vehicle and central mystery of alchemy. Sometimes Mercurius is an image and sometimes it is a philosophical thought, perhaps embodied as a scientific theory. Just because biophotons are substantive doesn’t make them less of a ‘psychic reality.’ In meditation, lack of light in inner vision during practice is called “licking the dry stone.” Butthe shining is always there in the core or heart of darkness.
This mixed nature of our phenomenal experience doesn’t mean we have to take it only as literal and concrete, even though it appears to be real. Nor does taking it alchemically mean we take it religiously, even as a redemption from redemption, stuffing it full of salvific redemption. It simply IS (isness), the prima and ultima materia — there all along as the goal of our search. The unconscious remains as mysterious as the nature of reality.