Alchemy is the art that leads the development processes, which are laid out in nature, to their perfection. The force for perfection is availble in principle. But it requires a conscious self, to enable this accomplishment.
Paracelsus, the physician, philosopher and alchemist of the 16th Century, speaks of a lower and an upper alchemy.
The lower alchemy is a traditional craft, which, particularly in metallurgy, played an important role in Asia and Egypt even before our Christian era. It causes changes in the direction from basic lead to sublime gold. But the lower alchemy could only be successful, when it was applied concurrently with the upper alchemy.
The upper alchemy is a spiritual process of development, which can arise from the natural, mortal man an immortal spirit-soul-man. It leads to a shift in consciousness, into a supra-personal, spiritual dimension that is beyond time and space, from which new and creative formations are possible.
A true alchemist is a person who is able to perceive the direction-giving laws of natural order, to recognize both the spiritual and the natural evolution in all of their creative modes and design patterns, so that he can be effective as a catalyst and co-worker in this cosmic scene. This is what Paracelsus means when he claims: „You must learn to read in the light of nature.“
A spiritual process
Thus, true alchemy is a spiritual process. The subtle craftsmanship will be considered – so to speak – a ritual accessible to the senses, which symbolically illustrates the changes and purification processes inside of man. In this sense, the alchemy of the 17th Century Brotherhood of the Rosycross was considered as a royal art, as “opus magnum” of a sevenfold change – observed in the alchemist’s vessel and in his own interior experience.
This sevenfold transformation of matter, in the vessel and the human soul, proceeds in seven stages, which are described in the classical alchemy in a certain order:
Modern authors such as the psychoanalyst C. G. Jung define a different order. This article, however, refers to the structure of classical alchemy.
1. Calcinatio – the operation of fire
In the laboratory, an ashing process by direct combustion occurs, which burns up the matter. Subsequently, a purification on a steady flame takes place, that does no longer singe, but turns the black ash into a fine white powder. This is the process of Albedo (whitening) by Calcination.
On the psychological level, Calcination is a first degree of purification: The ego with his fiery self-will has to be “ashed”, so that a purified, soul-serving ego can be developed. This work can of course only be done, if the person has opened his mind for a spiritual understanding. In this process, the sacrifice of self-will is the liberating factor, which allows a transmutation of consciousness.
An “unburned” ego would inevitably lead to imitation, which holds the referring person in its long-term bonds and paralyzes him. Therefore Paracelsus emphasizes that without the realization of the first degree of Calcination, the remaining stages of the work can not be accomplished.
2. Sublimatio – the operation of air
At this stage, in the alchemist’s vessel, the fine material is separated from the rough material. Therefore, the alchemists also often speak of this process as Separatio. From the ashes of the sacrificed self-will, as if in a sublimation, the purified element of the “materiae mater” rises – the matter of the pure, virginal soul, out of which the sublime materials are extracted for the realization of the spirit-soul-man. At this level, the feelings, thoughts and impulses of human action will be guided by the subtle soul vibrations, which have been separated by the Sublimatio and can appear to him as a pure image.
3. Solutio – the operation of water
In the alchemist’s vessel, a solid substance is dissolved in a liquid. The resoluted substance is then contained in the resolution. The Solutio is a slow and silent operation. The process of being dissolved in water is often called the drowning of the “Old King” – the „King I“.
On the inner path of the soul, Solutio means the complete self-surrender, the drowning of the old ego in the soul-self. This is the classical Rosicrucians’ principle of “in Jesus morimur”, also called „Endura“ in today’s spiritual school of the Golden Rosycross. This decline of the ego in the soul is simultaneously liberation of the soul and inclusion within world-soul.
4. Putrefactio (rot or decay) – the operation of earth
In the process of decay, a mild fire affects the matter, which dissolves all its components down to the last elementary level, but at the same time also introduces a new beginning to a higher complexity of structural or biological life.
In the wording of the alchemy, this act of Putrefactio is also known as Mortificatio. According to tradition, it lasts 40 days, under full covering. The inner symbolic significance in its parallelism to the emotional development can be regognized very clearly here. The Israelites wandered 40 days through the desert in search of the Promised Land. Jesus fasted 40 days in the desert, and it took 40 days from the Resurrection to the Ascension. The Putrefactio is an act of final declaration. Any forms of seduction and relics from skillful imitation of the ego are finally exposed and rejected.
In alchemy, one also speaks of making volatile. That which is subtle, is raised from the liquid into a new state of matter, the vapor.
While the distillate flows back into the vessel, the steam is made „fix“ by cooling it. It returns into the liquid form again. The steam takes what it has received from above, and brings it back into the liquid form. This process enriches the substance with new information, enables a loosening of the microstructure of the material elements and thus creates a more gradual refinement in a sense of transmutation, i. e. in terms of a metamorphosis. The process of distillation in a closed system is often ritualized and repeated 33 times.
Inside man rises, what is subtle – the pure soul – to a higher level in order to connect with the spirit. This combination creates a new information, a new consciousness. The fruits of this new thinking must then be brought back to the natural level of personality, in order to go achieve attainment by acting. What was taken from “above” must be carried “down” and put into reality there.
The distillation process on the spiritual path is a very important stage of development, as there is a risk that the candidate runs into a split of his personality and attempts to raise his subtle parts into spiritual levels, without achieving the necessary grounding of his intuitions and inspirations. He might become addicted to this process of volatility. At the same time, he might easily forget to work on the earthly attributes. Those have to be penetrated by the light coming from fire of spirit. This occurs during the „fixing“ process, so that all dark and shadowed areas inside himself can be integrated into the process by self-knowledge. „Fixing“ on the emotional level means the concrete manifestation of knowledge by acting.
To fully achieve the psychological process that is a direct analogy of the distillation process, inner maturity is required, and the four previous stages have to be completed. After many recurring “distillations”, the highest possible purification is reached. Its fruit is a clear presence of mind, from which a totally new way of life occurs. In this regard, the Cathars talked of the “Parfaits”, the pure ones. It is known about the Brotherhood of the Cathars, who lived at the beginning of the second Millennium AD in southern France, that they accomplished the transformation process of the soul.
This is a process of recreation. The Coagulatio represents, so to say, the countermovement to Destillatio: By complete evaporation of the solvent, the original form is again rendered in a new way. By repeated cycles of volatilization new information from “above” have been integrated into the solution and its residue. In the end, a renewed matter remains after the Coagulatio.
Transferred to the soul-work, Coagulatio means, that the spiritual idea flows into the purified and renewed form. Thus, supported by the renewed soul, a new creature will be brought to birth from the spiritual idea, i. e. from the archetype. The new consciousness is creating his own new body of light. The construction material is – as to the alchemists – the “dew of heaven”, meaning the pure, eternal etheric forces.
Wherever the newly acquired psychic and spiritual qualities do not lead to the creative act, they again fall victim to degeneration and crystallization.
The Conjunctio is the fruit of the previous changing stages of conversion. In the vessel as well as in the inner psychic process, distinction is made between a small and a big Conjunctio.
The small Conjunctio leads to an association of the polar forces – in the language of the laboratory: Mercury and Sulfur. Symbolically speaking, this is the union of king and queen. This symbol is shown on many pictures of the Middle Ages. It is the „chemical wedding“ between the principle of intellectual Sulfur (Sulphur) – the groom – and the principle of mental Mercury (Mercury) – the bride. As a fruit from this unity, the “Philosopher’s Stone” emerges, which leads all things to perfection by “tinging“ them. “Tinge“ as an alchemical term means that the Philosopher’s Stone colors (dyes) the things and so initiates a process of transmutation. The term “tincture“ is also rooted in this association. It means the elixir of life that cures all diseases.
On a spiritual level, the small Conjunctio means the union of opposites, of nature’s twin forces, which merge into a state complementary unit at the higher level of spirit-soul.
The large Conjunctio – enforceable only in the upper alchemy – is the final union of the spirit-soul with the eternal creative source. This is reflected in the word of Christ “I and the Father are one”. In this state of being, man himself becomes a Philosopher’s Stone that can tinge each creature to its perfection.
So, the alchemical aspirations of the Rosicrucians tried to perform the lower and upper alchemy in a synchronicity, so that the process of perpetual “dying and becoming” – the ongoing conversion through to perfection – can take place in the entire creative universe.
Awakened to their own spiritual sonship, they stand in the river of eternal becoming at all times and let their healing and sanctifying powers flow into every thing and every being to stimulate the development of ever more complex and higher levels of consciousness.