DST Header Alchemy.pngalchemyelementchartalchemia1. WHAT IS ALCHEMY?

Alchemy (from Arabic: al-kīmiyā) was an ancient branch of natural philosophy, a philosophical and protoscientific tradition practiced throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, originating in Greco-Roman Egypt in the first few centuries.

Alchemists attempted to purify, mature, and perfect certain materials. Common aims were chrysopoeia, the transmutation of “base metals” (e.g., lead) into “noble metals” (particularly gold); the creation of an elixir of immortality; the creation of panaceas able to cure any disease; and the development of an alkahest, a universal solvent.

The perfection of the human body and soul was thought to permit or result from the alchemical magnum opus and, in the Hellenistic and Western mystery tradition, the achievement of gnosis. In Europe, the creation of a philosopher’s stone was variously connected with all of these projects.

An important example of alchemy’s roots in Greek philosophy, originated by Empedocles and developed by Aristotle, was that all things in the universe were formed from only four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. According to Aristotle, each element had a sphere to which it belonged and to which it would return if left undisturbed. The four elements of the Greek were mostly qualitative aspects of matter, not quantitative, as our modern elements are; “…True alchemy never regarded earth, air, water, and fire as corporeal or chemical substances in the present-day sense of the word. The four elements are simply the primary, and most general, qualities by means of which the amorphous and purely quantitative substance of all bodies first reveals itself in differentiated form.” Later alchemists extensively developed the mystical aspects of this concept.

One can distinguish at least three major strands of alchemy, which appear to be largely independent, at least in their earlier stages: 1) Chinese alchemy, centered in China and its zone of cultural influence; 2) Indian alchemy, centered on the Indian subcontinent; and 3) Western alchemy, which occurred around the Mediterranean and whose center has shifted over the millennia from Greco-Roman Egypt, to the Islamic world, and finally medieval Europe. Chinese alchemy was closely connected to Taoism and Indian alchemy with the Dharmic faiths, whereas Western alchemy developed its own philosophical system that was largely independent of, but influenced by, various Western religions.

The central figure in the mythology of alchemy is Hermes Trismegistus (or Thrice-Great Hermes). His name is derived from the god Thoth and his Greek counterpart Hermes. Hermes and his caduceus or serpent-staff, were among alchemy’s principal symbols. According to Clement of Alexandria, he wrote what were called the “forty-two books of Hermes”, covering all fields of knowledge. The Hermetica of Thrice-Great Hermes is generally understood to form the basis for Western alchemical philosophy and practice, called the hermetic philosophy by its early practitioners. These writings were collected in the first centuries of the common era.

Beginning around 1720, a rigid distinction was drawn between “alchemy” and “chemistry” for the first time. By the 1740s, “alchemy” was now restricted to the realm of gold making, leading to the popular belief that alchemists were charlatans, and the tradition itself nothing more than a fraud. In order to protect the developing science of modern chemistry from the negative censure of which alchemy was being subjected, academic writers during the scientific Enlightenment attempted, for the sake of survival, to divorce and separate the “new” chemistry from the “old” practices of alchemy. This move was mostly successful, and the consequences of this continued into the 19th and 20th centuries, and even to the present day.

Alchemists played a significant role in early modern science (particularly chemistry and medicine). Islamic and European alchemists developed a structure of basic laboratory techniques, theory, terminology, and experimental method, some of which are still in use today. However, they continued antiquity’s belief in four elements and guarded their work in secrecy including cyphers and cryptic symbolism. Their work was guided by Hermetic principles related to magic, mythology, and religion.

During the occult revival of the early 19th century, alchemy received new attention as an occult science. The esoteric or occultist school, which arose during the 19th century, held (and continues to hold) the view that the substances and operations mentioned in alchemical literature are to be interpreted in a spiritual sense, and it downplays the role of the alchemy as a practical tradition or protoscience. This interpretation further forwarded the view that alchemy is an art primarily concerned with spiritual enlightenment or illumination, as opposed to the physical manipulation of apparatus and chemicals, and claims that the obscure language of the alchemical texts were an allegorical guise for spiritual, moral or mystical processes.


The Essential Dialectic of Alchemy is:

{Rubedo ⇆ Nigredo ⇅ Albedo} ↻ Cintrinitas

The Essential Dialectic of Alchemy is the Rubedo, Nigredo, Albedo, Cintrinitas Dialectic because …


The Intermediary Dialectic of Alchemic Philosophy is:

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The Complete Dialectic of Alchemic Philosophy is:

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Carl Jung interpreted the four stages of the Great Work or Magnum Opus of the alchemical process as analogous to modern-day psychoanalysis.

In the Jungian archetypal schema: 1)  rubedo is the self archetype of psychic wholeness, 2) nigredo is the shadow archetype of unacknowledged dark side; 3) albedo refers to the anima and animus contrasexual soul images; and 4) citrinitas is the wise old man or woman archetype.


The first stage of the alchemic process is Rubedo, or reddening, and is the preparation of the fire and the alchemists mind for the alchemic process, symbolized by a red rose in the image below. 

In the first stage the alchemist begins with an extremely hot fire. It is the temperature of the fire which determines the failure or success of the alchemists’ ability to turn base earthly prima materia elements into noble elements such as gold. Red therefor symbolizes mind or knowing in the psychoanalytic-alchemic process.


The second stage of the alchemic process is Nigredo, or blackening, and is the gathering of the earthly prima materia and the preparation of the alchemists body, symbolized by the inky man in the image below.

In the second stage of the alchemic process the alchemist exposes the earthly prima materia element – or combination of elements – to the flame of the fire for purification. Black therefor symbolizes body or doing in the psychoanalytic-alchemic process.


The third stage of the alchemic process is Albedo, or whitening, and is the cooling with water, symbolized by a golden lion in the image below.

In the third stage of the alchemic process the alchemist cools the earthly prima materia with water after exposing it to the varied heat of the fire. The cooling of the water is analogous to the soothing and cooling love of the Holy Spirit. Albedo therefor symbolizes spirit or being in the psychoanalytic-alchemic process.


The fourth stage of the alchemic process is Cintrinitas, or yellowing, and is exposure of the prima materia to the air, symbolized by a flying eagle in the image below.

In the fourth stage of the alchemic process the alchemist exposes the earthly prima materia element(s) to the yellowing or oxygenation of air. This process is the final transformation of the base metal into gold and and the alchemists soul into spiritual purity, perfection, heavenly bliss and enlightenment. Yellow therefor symbolizes soul or meaning in the psychoanalytic-alchemic process.



 The final archetype to appear in the process of individuation is the self.

In Jungian analytic psychology the self signifies the unification of consciousness with the unconscious and the psyche as a whole. For Jung, the self is symbolized by the circle (especially when divided in four quadrants), the square, or the mandala. In the process of individuation – under the self’s guidance – a succession of archetypal images emerge and bring all the fragmentary aspects of the personality into a totality.


The first archetype to appear in the process of individuation of the self is the shadow or personal unconscious.

The Jungian shadow is the closest to the ego and includes everything outside the light of consciousness and may be positive or negative. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” The shadow may be (in part) one’s link to more primitive animal instincts, which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind, and is usually known as the unknown dark side of the personality.


The second archetype to appear in the process of individuation of the self is the anima and animus or the contra-sexual soul-image.

The anima and animus are part of the central archetypes of the collective unconscious. Jung described the animus as the unconscious masculine side of a woman, and the anima as the unconscious feminine side of a man, with each transcending the personal psyche. The anima and animus are the two primary anthropomorphic archetypes of the unconscious mind, as opposed to both the theriomorphic and inferior function of the shadow archetypes. In the process of individuation the anima and animus play a mediatory role between the ego persona and the self.


The third archetype to appear in the process of individuation of the self is the mana figure of the wise old woman or man.

The wise old woman and the wise old man are archetypes of the collective unconscious and closest to the self. ‘The “wise old woman” or helpful “old woman” is a well-known symbol in myths and fairy tales for the wisdom of the eternal female nature. The ‘wise old man, or some other very powerful aspect of eternal masculinity is her male counterpart.  The wise old women is usually personified as a superior female figure – a priestess, sorceress, earth mother, or goddess of nature or love. The wise old man manifests itself as a masculine initiator and guardian.



“Dream is personalized myth, myth is depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamics of the psyche. 

But in the dream the forms are quirked by the peculiar troubles of the dreamer, whereas in myth the problem and solutions shown are directly valid for all mankind.” Joseph Campbell The Hero with a Thousand Faces Chp. 1


Myths come into being as presentations of polarities of experience, as the attempt to mediate oppositions. 

This meaning or intention of myth is not to be found in the narrative as such, or any of its variants taken singly.  It is, on the contrary, found in the structure of myth, structure revealed upon analysis of all possible versions of the myth however incompatible they may be with each other in detail.  The elements of myth representing of “high” and “low,” male and female, raw and cooked foods, and so on […] however strange or illogical, mediates opposites or polarities of experience.  The great polarity which finally incorporates all the oppositions of myth and governs its structure is the polarity of nature and culture.” Joseph Anthony Mazzeo Varieties of Interpretation pg. 8


“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical.

It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.” Joseph Campbell The Power of Myth


“It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those that tend to tie it back.

In fact, it may very well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid. We remain fixated to the unexorcised images of our infancy, and hence disinclined to the necessary passages of our adulthood.” Joseph Campbell The Hero with a Thousand Faces Chp. 1

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Awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of being.
According to Campbell myths serve four functions, the first being to awaken one to the absolute mystery of life, what he called transcendent reality, which cannot be captured directly in words or images. Symbols and mythic metaphors outside themselves and into transcendent reality. Myths are what Campbell called “being statements” and their enactment through ritual can give to the participant a sense of that ultimate mystery as an experience. “Mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centers of life beyond the reach of reason and coercion…. The first function of mythology is to reconcile waking consciousness to the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of this universe as it is.”


Explaining the shape of the universe.
For pre-modern societies, myth also functioned as a proto-science, offering explanations for the physical phenomena that surrounded and affected their lives, such as the change of seasons and the life cycles of animals and plants.


Validate and support the existing social order.
Ancient societies had to conform to an existing social order if they were to survive at all. This is because they evolved under “pressure” from necessities much more intense than the ones encountered in our modern world. Mythology confirmed that order and enforced it by reflecting it into the stories themselves, often describing how the order arrived from divine intervention. Campbell often referred to these “conformity” myths as the “Right Hand Path” to reflect the brain’s left hemisphere’s abilities for logic, order and linearity. Together with these myths however, he observed the existence of the “Left Hand Path”, mythic patterns like the “Hero’s Journey” which are revolutionary in character in that they demand from the individual a surpassing of social norms and sometimes even of morality.


Guide the individual through the stages of life.
As a person goes through life, many psychological challenges will be encountered. Myth may serve as a guide for successful passage through the stages of one’s life. The myths show how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances. It is this pedagogical function of mythology that carries the individual through the various stages and crises of life, from childhood dependency, to the responsibilities of maturity, to the reflection of old age, and finally, to death. Myth helps people grasp the unfolding of life with integrity. Myth initiates individuals into the order of realities in their own psyches, guiding them toward enrichment and realization.


Reveal the universal elementary ideas within particular folk ideas. 

Joseph Campbell’s concept of monomyth (one myth) refers to the theory that sees all mythic narratives as variations of a single great story. Campbell often referred to the ideas of Adolf Bastian and his distinction between what he called “folk” and “elementary” ideas, the latter referring to the prime matter of monomyth while the former to the multitude of local forms the myth takes in order to remain up-to-date.

As a strong believer in the psychic unity of mankind and its poetic expression through mythology, Campbell made use of the monomyth concept to express the idea that the whole of the human race can be seen as engaged in the effort of making the world “transparent to transcendence” by showing that underneath the world of phenomena lies an eternal source of noumena which is constantly pouring its energies into this world of time.



The Transcendent Function unifies the unconscious and the conscious.

The tendencies of the conscious and the unconscious are the two factors that together make up the transcendent function. It is called “transcendent” because it makes the transition from one attitude to another organically possible. –Carl Jung The Transcendent Function CW 8, par. 145.


The Transcendent Function arises from the tension of opposites.

When there is full parity of the opposites, attested by the ego’s absolute participation in both, this necessarily leads to a suspension of the will, for the will can no longer operate when every motive has an equally strong counter-motive. Since life cannot tolerate a standstill, a damming up of vital energy results, and this would lead to an insupportable condition did not the tension of opposites produce a new, uniting function that transcends them. This function arises quite naturally from the regression of libido caused by the blockage. –Carl Jung Definitions CW 8, par. 145.



Once the unconscious content has been given form and the meaning of the formulation is understood, the question arises as to how the ego will relate to this position, and how the ego and the unconscious are to come to terms. This is the second and more important stage of the procedure, the bringing together of opposites for the production of a third: the transcendent function. At this stage it is no longer the unconscious that takes the lead, but the ego. –Carl Jung Definitions CW 8, par. 145. [Ibid., par. 181.]



From the activity of the unconscious there now emerges a new content, constellated by thesis and antithesis in equal measure and standing in a compensatory relation to both. It thus forms the middle ground on which the opposites can be united. If, for instance, we conceive the opposition to be sensuality versus spirituality, then the mediatory content born out of the unconscious provides a welcome means of expression for the spiritual thesis, because of its rich spiritual associations, and also for the sensual antithesis, because of its sensuous imagery. The ego, however, torn between thesis and antithesis, finds in the middle ground its own counterpart, its sole and unique means of expression, and it eagerly seizes on this in order to be delivered from its division. [“Definitions,” CW 6, par. 825.]



-In 1916 Jung wrote an essay titled “The Transcendent Function,” which was later revised; it appears in BSXX, vol. 8 as “The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche.”  In it he stated that the transcendent function arises from the union of conscious and unconscious contents.  Jung notes from his experience that the unconscious and conscious rarely agree as to content or tendency and that the that they play more complementary roles towards each other.

Jung called the function “transcendent” because “it makes the transition from one attitude to another organically possible, without the loss of the unconscious.  The constructive or synthetic method of treatment presupposes insights which are at least potentially preset in the patient and can therefore be made conscious.

In his treatment of mental disorders such as neuroses, Jung sees the role of the analyst as that of mediating the transcendent function for the patient, helping him to bring conscious and unconscious contents together toward a new attitude.  This role of analyst is one of he most important meanings of transference.  Though transference may be an infantile role for the patient, Jung notes that clients see the analyst as having in this relation the “character of an indispensable figure absolutely necessary for life.”  Should the demand of the patient not be met (i.e., the therapist not meet the client expectations as transference), bitter hatred toward the therapist may develop.

Within the context of the transcendent function, Jung talks about the directedness and definiteness of the conscious mind in contrast to the lower tension level of the unconscious mind, say, in a dream having low energy-tension, logical discontinuity, fragmentary character, superficial associations of the verbal and visual type, condensations, confusion, and so on.  Jung notes that a certain one-sidedness is unavoidable in the directed process.  “But,” he says, “if the tension increases as a result of too much one-sidedness, usually the counter-tendency breaks through into consciousness, usually at a moment when it is important to maintain the conscious direction.”  An example of this would be an embarrassing slip of the tongue made when one least want to do it.

In the effort to balance the tension between the unconscious and the conscious, definiteness and directedness may become impaired, as in the case of the neurotic whose threshold of consciousness gets shifted more readily than that of a normal person, or in the case of a psychotic who is under the direct influence of the unconscious.  Civilization’s demand for directed, conscious functioning, in Jung’s view, calls for the “risk of considerable dissociation from the unconscious.”  The risk is that the more we remove ourselves from the unconscious through directed functioning, “the more readily a powerful counter position can build up in the unconscious, and when this breaks out, it may have disagreeable consequences. -William L. Kelly Psychology of the Unconscious: Mesmer, Janet, Freud, Jung and current Issues. pg 124-125




-The confrontation of the two positions generates a tension charged with energy and creates a living, third thing¾not a logical still birth in accordance with the principle tertium non datur [third is not given] but a movement out of the suspension between opposites, a living birth that leads to a new level of being, a new situation.  The transcendent function manifests itself as a quality of conjoined opposites.  So long as these are kept apart¾naturally for the purpose of avoiding conflict¾ they do not function and remain inert.

In whatever form the opposites appear in the individual, at bottom it is always a matter of a consciousness lost and obstinately stuck in one-sidedness, confronted with the image of instinctive wholeness and freedom.[1]


-The transcendent function is a twofold process:  the spontaneous emergence of a unifying symbol unites opposing elements; and from this union, it establishes a new conscious attitude, one that is more integrated and enriched with those elements that were hitherto unconscious.  Ego-consciousness tends to focus exclusively on adaptation to circumstances in its immediate environment, and fails to integrate unconscious material that is not relevant to its adaptation.  The ego can thus easily develop a one-sidedness that does not correspond to the overall instinctive wholeness of the personality.  The transcendent function enables the personality to move from one-sided attitude to a new, more complete, one.  By symbolically sketching new possibilities of life (in ‘dreams and visions’) it facilitates this transition and opens the way for further development.

The development of the personality is therefore advanced when the opposites of conscious and unconscious complement one another.  The conscious attitude requires compensation from the unconscious attitude if it is to flourish, but this does not mean that the unconscious attitude is privileged over consciousness.  Jung writes: “Unconscious compensation is only effective when it co-operates with an integral consciousness; assimilation is never a question of “this or that”, but always of “this and that” (Jung, 1934b, par. 338).  Both opposites must be regarded as having equal importance and must be integrally connected an move on parallel lines if the personality is to remain mentally stable; if they split apart or become dissociated, the personality will suffer from psychological disturbance (cf. MHS, p. 52).[2]


-There is nothing mysterious or metaphysical about the term “transcendent function.”  It means a psychological function comparable it its way to a mathematical function of the same name, which is a function of real and imaginary numbers.  The psychological “transcendent function” arises from the union of the conscious and unconscious contents.

-Experience in analytical psychology has amply shown that the conscious and the unconscious seldom agree as to their contents and their tendencies.  This lack of parallelism is not just accidental or purposeless, but is due to the fact that the unconscious behaves in a compensatory or complimentary manner towards the conscious.  We can also put it the other way round and say the conscious behaves in a complementary manner towards the unconscious.[3]


-This continual process of getting to know the counter position in the unconscious I have called the “transcendent function,” because confrontation of conscious (rational) data with those that are unconscious (irrational) necessarily results in a modification of standpoint.  But an alteration is possible only if the existence of the “other” is admitted, at least to the point of taking conscious cognizance of it.[4]

[1]       Carl Jung Portable Jung pg 298

[2]       Nietzsche and Jung pg 39

[3]       Carl Jung Portable Jung pg 273

[4]       Carl Jung Mysterium Coniunctionis pg 200



“It is generally thought that Jung primarily developed his concept of the Self primarily from his own concept of the ‘transcendent function’, and from Eastern Mysticism, which frequently refers to notions of totality (Jung, 1951, par. 35).  […T]he transcendent function if part of the symbol-forming aspect of the unconscious that possesses a purposive tendency to hold both aspects of the conscious and unconscious together.  Its purpose is to enable the psyche to realize the Self – the ultimate psychic balance where all oppositions are resolved.

The shuttling to and fro of arguments and affects represents the transcendent function of opposites.  The confrontation of the two positions generates a tension charged with energy and creates a living, third thing…a movement out of the suspension between opposites, a living birth that leads to a new level of being, a new situation.

This ‘third thing’ and ‘new level of being’, which culminates in the unification of opposites, is virtually identical with the Self.  In this sense the Self (as with the transcendent function) can be regarded as a mediator of  opposites.  It is equivalent to the ‘third’ element that is introduced in the second stage of the alchemic process of Ostanes, which, through its affinities with both opposites, enables their unification (cf. Jung, 1946, par.474). The Self is both a crucial ingredient within the process of uniting opposites and the very end-product of this process, the union of opposites itself.

How does a symbol originate?  This question brings us to the most important function of the unconscious: the symbol-creating function.  There is something very remarkable about this function, because it has only a relative existence.  The compensatory function, on the other hand, is the natural, automatic function of the unconscious and is constantly present.  It owes its existence to the simple fact that all the impulses, thoughts, wishes, and tendencies which run counter to the rational orientation of daily life are denied expression, thrust into the background, and finally fall into the unconscious.  There all the things which we have repressed and suppressed, which we have deliberately ignored and devalued, gradually accumulate and, in time, acquire such force that they begin to influence consciousness.  This influence would be in direct opposition to our conscious orientation if the unconscious consisted only of repressed and suppressed material.  But this, as we have seen, is not the case.  The unconscious also contains the dark springs of instinct and intuition, it contains all those forces which mere reasonableness, propriety, and the orderly course of bourgeois existence could never call awake, all those creative forces which lead man onwards to new developments, new forms, and new goals.  I therefore call the influence of the unconscious not merely complementary but compensatory, because it adds to consciousness everything that has been excluded by the drying up of the springs of intuition and by the fixed pursuit of a single goal.

– Jung, C.G. Civilization in Transition 2nd Edition pg 18-19

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