Alchemy speaks a secret language, which, provided there is a basic soul readiness, can be learnt through a slow and arduous process, yet abounding in moments of rapture and revelation. Its method of explanation was best summarized by a Latin phrase obscurum per obscurium, ignotium per ignotius (the obscure by the more obscure, the unknown by the more unknown):
“The real mystery does not behave mysteriously or secretively;… it adumbrates itself by a variety of images which all indicate its true nature. I am not speaking of a secret personally guarded by someone, with a content known to its possessor, but of a mystery, a matter or circumstance which is ‘secret,’ i.e. known only through vague hints but essentially unknown. The real nature of matter was unknown to the alchemist: he knew it only in hints. In seeking to explore it he projected the unconscious into the darkness of matter in order to illuminate it.” (par. 345)
In the modern art of text interpretation called hermeneutics, in the foreground is the relationship between the reader and the text. My relationship with Jung’s alchemical writings is a devoted one; the vagueness, secretiveness and all the contradictions just fan my flames. If we agree that alchemy works with the soul, whose limits, as Heraclitus taught, one cannot find, so deep is its logos; then we will see that the multi-faceted and paradoxical nature of alchemical contents is warranted. Psyche is timeless, unchanging throughout the ages; this makes it possible to merge our modern horizon with that of the alchemists of the old times, provided we are attuned to our inner depths in the same way as they were.
According to Jung, two components were indispensable in order to embark on alchemical work: meditatio and imaginatio. They are defined in Ruland’s Lexicon Alchemiae as follows:
MEDITATIO — The name of an Internal Talk of one person with another who is invisible, as in the invocation of the Deity, or communion with one’s self, or with one’s good angel.
IMAGINATIO — is the Star in Man, the Celestial or Supercelestial Body.
It seems that there was a hermeneutic process operating in alchemy, which was based on “an inner dialogue and hence a living relationship to the answering voice of the other in ourselves, i.e., of the unconscious” (par. 390). As the Emerald Tablet stated, “And all things proceed from the One through the meditation of the One,” which demands from us to attune ourselves to our inner psychic reality in order to bring what is hidden into light. The life-bringing exchange between the spotlight of consciousness and the vast fertile darkness of the unconscious is “a creative dialogue, by means of which things pass from an unconscious potential state to a manifest one.” (par. 390).
Imagination was what fired up those great alchemical works with their phantasmagorical images. Those “fantasy-pictures,” said Jung, are not mere immaterial phantoms but they are subtle symbolic bodies. For Jung, imagination was “a concentrated extract of the life forces, both physical and psychic” (par. 394). The soul is the bridge that spans the material and the spiritual realm, constantly engaging in creative imagination in order to actualize the archetypal forms into manifestation:
“The place or the medium of realization is neither mind nor matter, but that intermediate realm of subtle reality which can be adequately only expressed by the symbol. The symbol is neither abstract nor concrete, neither rational nor irrational, neither real or unreal. It is always both.” (par. 400)
Imagination is the inner star guiding us along the process of our soul making. The process of imagining and birthing new forms takes place in an egg-shaped vessel, which the alchemists imagined as well sealed, “completely round, in imitation of the spherical cosmos, so that the influence of the stars may contribute to the success of the operation.” (par. 338). This soul vessel held all secrets of creation.
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Source of quotes:
C.G Jung, Psychology and Alchemy