Jung on Alchemy (9): the Coniunctio – part 3 – the Red Stone

Mircea Eliade, a Rumanian-born historian of religions, in conversation with Carl Jung

“We must sleep with eyes open, we must dream with our hands,

we must dream the active dreams of a river seeking its course, the dreams of the sun dreaming its worlds,

we must dream out loud, we must sing until the song sends out roots, trunk, branches, birds, stars,

sing until the dream begets and the red wheat of the resurrection is created from the rib of the sleeper…”

Octavio Paz, “A Broken Waterjar”

In an interview conducted by Mircea Eliade at the 1952 Eranos Conference, Jung spoke of the final stage of the alchemical opus as well as the mystery of the coniunctio. He saw the integration of the opposites, and especially of evil and blackness, as one of the greatest problems of psychology:

“For, as long as Satan is not integrated, the world is not healed and man is not saved. …

In the language of the alchemists, matter suffers until the nigredo disappears, when the “dawn” {aurora) will be announced by the “peacock’s tail” {cauda pavonis) and a new day will break, the leukosis or albedo. But in this state of “whiteness” one does not live in the true sense of the word, it is a sort of abstract, ideal state. In order to make it come alive it must have “blood,” it must have what the alchemists call the rubedo, the “redness” of life. Only the total experience of being can transform this ideal state of the albedo into a fully human mode of existence. Blood alone can reanimate a glorious state of consciousness in which the last trace of blackness is dissolved, in which the devil no longer has an autonomous existence but rejoins the profound unity of the psyche. Then the opus magnum is finished: the human soul is completely integrated.”

C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams Reflections (https://archive.org/stream/MemoriesDreamsReflectionsCarlJung/carlgustavjung-interviewsandencounters-110821120821-phpapp02_djvu.txt)

Perhaps nowhere in literature can we find a better example of the soul work coming out of albedo and striving for rubedo than in Goethe’s Faust. Faust has reached the stage when he feels entrapped by his arid scholarly life; as he desires to win “the riches of experience”, he exclaims:

“I’ll take the frenzy, pain-filled elation,

Loving hatred, enlivening frustration.”

The evil demon Mephistopheles hears him and offers him a pact – Faust will give him his soul the moment he reaches what he has been striving for, namely the true essence of life (“was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhält”). The Devil, “part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good,” spurs Faust on a journey of integrating his feminine and his feeling side, which the scholar had hitherto neglected. The Red Stone is the ultimate effort at integration and the embodiment of the inner truth. Like in Psalm 118:22, the stone that the builders (i.e. the ego) rejected, becomes the cornerstone for the newly-oriented, wider psyche.

Harry Clarke’s illustration to Faust

Jung distinguished four functions of the psyche: thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. Thinking and intuition are active, masculine elements while feeling and sensation are receptive and feminine. They can be related to the four archetypal elements of creation: air (thinking), water (feeling), earth (sensation) and fire (intuition). The alchemical treatise Rosarium Philosophorum, which was subject of parts 7 (https://symbolreader.net/2017/11/26/jung-on-alchemy-7-the-coniunctio-part-1-the-mercurial-fountain/) and 8 (https://symbolreader.net/2018/02/17/jung-on-alchemy-8-the-coniunctio-part-2-the-white-stone/) of this alchemical series, can be viewed as a quest towards balancing the elements within the psyche.

In the previous posts, the first ten woodcuts were discussed, which culminated in the creation of the White Stone. The feminine, i.e. the feeling and sensing part of the soul, suffered through deep depression which turned this part of the soul inward and downward. The masculine, which is the thinking and intuiting part of the soul, ascended to the heavenly vault and subsequently sent the insights received there down in the form of purifying rain, which revivified the dying feminine part. Deep pain and suffering resulted in spiritual and noble detachment. In his own analysis of the woodcuts, Jungian analyst Gary Tomkins, observed that the hermaphrodite born out of this albedo stage is floating on the moon, in a state of dreamy detachment from the ground. There is grace in gaining philosophical distance from deep suffering; however, that is not the end of the opus.

Astrologer Gary P. Caton summarizes what is to come next thus:

“After the purging of the darker or unproductive passions in the nigredo, and the inner marriage of the albedo, it is time to re-engage the fiery passions toward more worldly goals once again. In real life, this simply means using the fires of inspiration kindled in the soul during albedo to produce the blood, sweat and tears necessary to make a dream real.”

Gary P. Caton, “Hermetica Tripticha: The Mercury Elemental Year”

In the text of the Rosarium the Stone is likened to an animal and a vegetable; it is said to be “compounded of body, soul and spirit.” In the White Stone part of the opus, as McClean points out, the masculine forces were active and dominant while in the Red Stone sequence it is the feminine aspect of the soul which enacts her work on the passive, receptive masculine (woodcut 11).

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 11

Woodcut 12, called the Illumination, shows a solar disc descending into the mercurial waters of transformation.

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 12

This is a truly fascinating development in the soul’s work. The masculine part of the soul has to go against its very nature and submerge itself in the water of the unconscious. Similarly in the Egyptian myth, the boat of the Sun god Re enters the Underworld. Woodcuts 14-16 are mirror images of woodcuts 7-9. In image 14 the feminine part of the soul (Luna) ascends to the heavens while the solar masculine journeys through the unconscious waters. Luna sends revivifying dew from above and proceeds to descend and unite with the masculine (Sol).

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 16

Woodcut 17 presents the creation of the Red Stone, a symbol of ultimate cohesion and reconciliation of opposites. The feet of the hermaphrodite are planted on the three-headed dragon symbolizing the interconnection of boy, soul and spirit. The solar tree has borne fruit of consciousness. The pelican is feeding its young with its own blood. This indicates, on the one hand, that the true would work demands sacrifice and brings suffering, while it also points out that the pathway to the divine leads through the heart. The white, red and black snake in the chalice are reminiscent of the first woodcut – the Mercurial Fountain. They are “the Virgin’s Milk ( the feminine receptive lunar forces in the soul), the Spring of Vinegar (the masculine sharp, penetrating solar forces in the soul) and the Aqua Vitae, the water of life (the inner source of soul energies),” according to McClean. The green snake held by the feminine half of the hermaphrodite corresponds to the vital, lifeful greenness of the three-headed dragon. The red stone of this image brings to mind the qualities of being earthy, tangible, vital, bringing passion, growth and productivity. The pelican also suggests deep emotionalism and self-sacrificing nurturing.

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 16

The subsequent image (17) is especially important to me, as I remember I was particularly drawn to it when I discovered Jung and alchemy many years ago. In Mysterium Coniunctionis Jung writes that the green lion was viewed by alchemists as “a means of conjoining the tinctures between sun and moon.” He is also the mineral stone, which suggests earthiness and groundedness. Jung also quotes Mylius, who wrote that the green lion is actually Mercurius – “the whole elixir of the albedo and the rubedo and the aqua permanens and the water of life and death, and the virgin’s milk… and the fountain of the soul: of which who shall drink does not die … and it is this which mortifies and desiccates and moistens…”. The Green Lion symbolizes the deepest mystery of alchemy, which is hidden in the mercurial waters of the Collective Unconscious. Here it devours the Sun possibly to start the cycle all over again and also, like in woodcut 12, to initiate it into the dark mysteries of death and rebirth, as featured in the last woodcut of the series picturing the risen Christ.

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 18

The penultimate woodcut (19) deserves special attention. Here the feminine is crowned and achieves exaltation, her unique role in the opus celebrated and acknowledged. This brings me back to Faust and the memorable last words of the play, sung by the Mystic Choir:

“All of the transient,
Is parable, only:
The insufficient,
Here, grows to reality:
The indescribable,
Here, is done:
Woman, eternal,
Beckons us on.”

This “growing to reality” is the essence of the Red Stone.

Rosarium Philosophorum, woodcut 19

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5 Responses to Jung on Alchemy (9): the Coniunctio – part 3 – the Red Stone

  1. Interesting transcripts. Thank you for this post. Over the years I had lost sight of the wondrous woodcuts.

  2. Pingback: Jung on Alchemy (9): the Coniunctio – part 2 – the Red Stone – lampmagician

  3. 1weaver says:

    beautiful. overwhelming. entrancing. potent.

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