My upcoming series of posts is going to be based on three works of C.G. Jung:
1) Psychology and Alchemy, volume 12 of the Collected Works
2) Alchemical Studies, volume 13 of the Collected Works
3) Mysterium Coniunctionis, volume 14 of the Collected Works
The guiding thought for the series, which is not going to be a summary of Jung’s works but rather a collection of various thoughts and a tribute to Jung, comes from Psychology and Alchemy, where Jung states:
“I for my part prefer the precious gift of doubt, for the reason that it does not violate the virginity of things beyond our ken.”
Alchemy, as well as the totality of the psyche (i.e. the conscious and the unconscious), is a sphere of deepest mystery, not explainable by abstract concepts or categories. Alchemy is not an abstraction from life, as its chief premise states that the unconscious is both the fertile ground and the water of life that nourishes all life. The word “alchemy” combines two root meanings etymologically: “land of black earth” (i.e. Egypt) and “that which is poured out” (juice, sap), which means that the word itself spells moisture and fecundity. It seems that by applying too much intellectual rigidity we risk drying alchemy out, stripping it of its pristine mysteriousness. As Jung writes in volume 12, pars 93-94:
“By acknowledging the reality of the psyche and making it a co-determining ethical factor in our lives, we offend against the spirit of convention which for centuries has regulated psychic life from outside by means of institutions as well as by reason. Not that unreasoning instinct rebels of itself against firmly established order; by the strict logic of its own inner laws it is itself of the firmest structure imaginable and, in addition, the creative foundation of all binding order. But just because this foundation is creative, all order which proceeds from it – even in its most ‘divine’ form – is a phase, a stepping stone. Despite appearances to the contrary, the establishment of order and the dissolution of what has been established are at bottom beyond human control. The secret is that only that which can destroy itself is truly alive. …
The water that the mother, the unconscious, pours into the basin belonging to the anima, is an excellent symbol for the living power of the psyche. The old alchemists never tired of devising new and expressive synonyms for this water. They called it aqua nostra, mercurius vivus, argentum vivum, vinum ardens, aqua vitae, succus lunariae, and so on, by which they meant a living being not devoid of substance, as opposed to the rigid immateriality of mind in the abstract. The expression succus lunariae (sap of the moon-plant) refers clearly enough to the nocturnal origin of the water, and aqua nostra, like mercurius vivus, to its earthliness.”
The greatest question of alchemy, as it appears to me, is how to live according to the dictates of one’s inner life by tapping into its rich, fertile and dark unconscious roots; how to resist the imposed outside regulations and instead self-regulate from the depths within; finally, how to let go if the order that seemed to have worked for us for some time has stopped being nourishing, and instead has turned into scary, derelict ruins or a haunting dead forest. The need for fluid transformation seems to be the first law of alchemy. Such a transformation does not mean merciless hacking away at the coarse woody debris of our past life, but rather acknowledging that even that which needs to be left behind paradoxically nourishes us, just as the fallen tree logs actually recycle nutrients essential for all living organisms, provide shelter for countless creatures of the forest, and, when placed in streams, provide shelter for fish and a place for turtles to lay their eggs. On slopes, coarse wood debris “stabilizes soils by slowing downslope movement of organic matter and mineral soil“ (source: Wikipedia). Dead trees, just as the dying and crumbling structures of our lives, are a valuable resource that needs to be maintained and protected as a sine qua non of our regeneration.
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