Alchemy: An Allegorical Map to Consciousness Transmutation

January 30, 2013 § 33 Comments

By Tai Carmen

"Interpretation of Tabula Smaragdina" by Dennis William Hauck, site source:

“We are unraveling our navels so that we may ingest the sun. We are not afraid of the darkness. We trust that the moon shall guide us. We are determining the future at this very moment. We know that the heart is the philosopher’s stone. Our music is our alchemy.” ~ Saul Williams

Shrouded in mystery and steeped in mysticism, Alchemy is the art and science of transformation. The multi-leveled, symbol-rich philosophy of the ages functions both on an exoteric (practical) and esoteric (spiritual) level.

Alchemical-sun-moon, alchemy art, site credit:

At its most literal, alchemy was the chemical quest to create the Philosopher’s stone—a legendary substance derived from a series of laboratory processes, known as the The Magnum Opus, The Great Work, or simply The Art. The Philosopher’s Stone was said to be the agent of gold transmutation, and the key ingredient in the creation of the fabled elixir of life, said to heal all diseases, induce longevity and even immortality.

Yet it’s clear from the ancient sacred texts, known as the Corpus Hermeticum—upon which alchemy’s Hermetic principals are based—that gold transmutation is but the tip of the iceberg, as well as a symbolic teaching, of what is essentially a philosophical and mystical tradition. The Philosopher’s Stone can be, and often is, viewed metaphorically.

“[T]he Stone is a symbol of  incorruptible wisdom achieved by uniting both rational, intellectual thinking (masculine, right brain activity) with our intuitive knowing of the heart  (feminine, left brain activity).” (Alchemy & The Philosopher’s Stone.)

Alchemy art, credit unknown

“Alchemy posits that all things in the universe originate with the materia prima (First Matter),” notes P.T. Mistlberger in his essay “Psycho-Spiritual Alchemy.

“The idea of the ‘primal material’ was developed by Aristotle and refers to the idea that there is a primordial matter that lies behind all forms, but that is itself invisible. It is the womb of creation, the field of pure potentiality, but it only gains existence, in the strictest sense, when given form.”

Mistlberger continues: “In the alchemical process, the primal material is that which remains when something has been reduced to its essence and can be reduced no further.”

From a mystical perspective, “essence” is also commonly associated with the soul.

“Psychologically,” Mistleberger adds, “this is a potent symbol for the inner process of transformation in which we regularly arrive at ‘core realizations’ that cannot be deconstructed further, but that themselves become the ground for successfully moving forward in life—‘integrating’ as we evolve.” alchemy sacred marriage, sun moon, site credit:

Certainly such high-level claims as gold transmutation and immortality elixirs made alchemy ripe for abuse from charlatans. Its cryptic language and oblique symbolism only aided sham-peddling swindlers with the perfect smoke screen behind which to operate mysteriously.

Fraudulent claims drove The Art into disrepute—Dante reserves a special place in his Inferno for alchemists—and the modern materialist mind is often quick to dismiss alchemy as an arcane jumble of smoke and mirrors hogwash. Though it is considered a protoscience for modern chemistry due to its establishment of basic chemical procedures (the most notable being distillation), its discovery of phosphorus, antimony and bismuth, and preparation of nitric, hydrochloric and sulphuric acid.

and it shows the alcheHenning Brand discovers phosphorus by Joseph Wright .

The real “gold,” however, seems to lie in the deeper, spiritual heritage of Alchemy. The mystical truths preserved in its archetypal imagery and symbolism still serve as an allegorical map for seekers today.

“Only through discovering alchemy,” notes pioneering Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, “have I clearly understood that the unconscious is a process and that ego’s rapport with the unconscious and his contents initiates an evolution, more precisely, a real metamorphosis of the psyche.”

 The Spiritual Pilgrim (16th Century German woodcut), alchemy, art, alchemical woodcut, recolored by: Roberta Weir, site source:

While the imagery associated with alchemy can be bafflingly surreal and even disturbing, every detail holds symbolic meaning that becomes coherent when viewed through an allegorical lens.

The 7 Stages (or Operations) of Alchemy give insight into many of these symbols. The system is thought to be based largely on the ancient text, The Emerald Tablet of Hermes—the jewel in the crown of the Corpus Hermeticum. The first translation dates back to the 13th century, though its origin is suspected to go as far back as the 2nd century or older.

emerald tablet, new translation, site credit:

The 7 Stages, undertaken with the goal of the Philosopher’s Stone (both literal and metaphorical), are as follows:

birds, nigredo stage, blackening,alchemy, site source:

1.Calcination. (“Its father is the sun.” ~ The Emerald Tablet of Hermes)

Chemically, this initial stage involves heating the substance over an open flame and burning away the first layer of impurities.

“Psychologically,” remarks Dennis William Hauk, an Internationally recognized expert on alchemy research, “this is the destruction of the ego and our attachment to material possessions. Calcination is usually a natural humbling process as we are gradually assaulted and overcome by the trials and tribulations of life, though it can be a deliberate surrender of our inherent hubris [igniting] the fire of introspection and self-evaluation.”

“In spiritual symbolism, this stage is sometimes humorously referred to as ‘cooking’ or ‘baking’ (and in fact the prime symbol of this stage is fire),” observes P.T. Mistlberger in “Psycho-Spiritual Alchemy.

Calcination stage. "Athanor of the Mind"  -- "a curious drawing form the eighteenth century that presages the methods of modern psychotherapy using an alchemical furnace instead of a psychoanalyst." Site credit:

Spiritually, Adam McClean points out in his essay Birds in Alchemy, “the nigredo indicates the initial stages of the alchemist’s encounter with his inner space, through withdrawing from the outer world of the senses in meditation, and entering what is initially the dark inner world of the soul,”

Symbolized by crows, ravens, toads, sculls and skeletons—as well as the alchemist in his own burning flask or cauldron—philosophically, this stage represents the breaking down of old structures. Called the nigredo, or “blackening,” Calcination involved putrefaction and decomposition of the alchemical substances—a “trial by fire” that psychologists often equate with the Dark Night of the Soul, the death of old aspects of the self and confrontation with the shadow within.

nigredo stage, blackening, alchemist in flask by Karena A. Karras

2. Dissolution (“Its mother is the moon.”)

Also called the albedoor “whitening,” the second stage, was said to result from the washing (ablutio, baptisma) of the products of the nigredo. Chemically, this phase denotes the dissolving of the ashes from Calcination in water. Often symbolized by a white swan or a white eagle, Dissolution marks a time of emotional cleansing, a purification through catharsis and letting go.

“It is, for the most part, an unconscious process,” details Dennis William Hauck,  “in which our conscious minds let go of control to allow the surfacing of buried material. It is opening the floodgates and generating new energy from the waters held back. Dissolution can be experienced as “flow,” the bliss of being well-used and actively engaged in creative acts.”

alchemical swan by Karena A. Karras, site credit:

“This stage is often characterized by experiencing the emotion of grief,” adds P.T. Mistlberger, “and allowing ourselves to truly grieve painful incidents from our past that we may have long buried.

“A key to the stage of Dissolution is the awakening of passion, and the harnessing of the energy of emotional pain toward an object of creativity. We do not just passively witness the reality of our inner pain; we redirect its energy, wedding it to our authentic personal desires and constructive aims.”

“It is that stage of catharsis after some intense experience of being consumed in the crucible,” details Adam McLean, “when we glimpse the appearance, however fragmentary, of a new possibility —a flickering light in our souls which draws us towards its promise of change.”

The Alchemy By Ella/Mihaela Sebeniswan, alchemy, site source:

3. Separation (“The wind carries it in its belly.”)

Chemically, according to Hauk, this stage marks “the isolation of the components of Dissolution by filtration and then discarding any ungenuine or unworthy material.

Reaping the Golden Head depicts the spiritual warrior dismembering the body to save the most valuable part in the process of Separation. site credit:“Psychologically, this process is the rediscovery of our essence and the reclaiming of dream and visionary ‘gold’ previously rejected by the masculine, rational part of our minds. It is, for the most part, a conscious process in which we review formerly hidden material and decide what to discard and what to reintegrate into our refined personality.”

The Separation stage, much as its name suggests, denotes a time of discernment and taking stock. ”In this stage,” notes Mistlberger, “we begin to see what is of value in our life, and what is not.”

Splitting the Egg of Being shows the spiritual warrior about to slice through the hermetically sealed egg of his own being during the Separation operation. (Splendor Solis 1500s), site credit:
4. Conjunction (“The earth is its nurse.”)

“Chemically,” Hauk tells us, “it is the recombination of the saved elements from Separation into a new substance…”

“Psychologically, it is empowerment of our true selves, the union of both the masculine and feminine sides of our personalities into a new belief system or an intuitive state of consciousness. The alchemists referred to it as the Lesser Stone, and after it is achieved, the adept is able to clearly discern what needs to be done to achieve lasting enlightenment, which is union with the Overself. Often, synchronicities begin to occur that confirm the alchemist is on the right track.”

The divided self, often represented by a king and queen, now purified and healed—is reunited, producing filius philosophorum, or “the philosopher’s child,” a magical, hermaphroditic babe, representing the reborn, integrated self.

conjunction, alchemy,

“Esoteric alchemy proposes,” Mistlberger elaborates, “that what is left if the first three stages of calcination, dissolution, and separation have been properly undergone is a state wherein we can more clearly mediate between our ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’.

“In this sense ‘soul’ refers to our embodied spirit, the part of our essential nature that is fully on Earth, and ‘spirit’ refers to our most rarefied connection with the divine, transcendental Source. These two are sometimes categorized as the divine feminine (soul) and the divine masculine (spirit). The combining of the two is the essence of inner tantra, a sacred marriage of spiritual opposites.”

The integration of the active, “impregnating” principal of divine spirit is often depicted as the masculine sun, or Sol, while the receptive principal of the body receiving that spirit infusion is represented by the feminine moon, or Luna. Below these aspects integrate via the symbolic sexual union of Sol and Luna.

Conjunction in the Libido shows the opposing forces of Soul and Spirit coming together in sexual Conjunction, site credit.

“In conjunction, fears melt,” adds Nephtalia Leba in her essay “Alchemical Transformation.” “The old scripts that played in our head that said we ‘must’ or we ‘should’ are quieter, if not gone. There is more joy now. We begin to see the world more clearly. The acts we do choose to engage in – even the mundane acts – take on a greater delight.”

alchemy symbolism

5. Fermentation (“Separate the Earth from Fire, the subtle from the gross, gently and with great Ingenuity.”)

Chemically, Fermentation is the growth of a ferment (bacteria) in organic solutions, such as occurs in the fermenting of grapes to make wine. And this idea is mirrored in the psycho-spiritual stage it represents in the seeker’s journey. Fermentation is a two step process, which begins with Putrefaction.

fermentation, alchemy: Putrefaction of Two Different Things shows Saturn and Death looking on as the decomposition of the Soul and Spirit begins. Site credit: In this stage, Hauk details, “matter is allowed to breakdown and decompose. The alchemists often added manure to help get the process going…The dead material seems to come to life again with an influx of digesting bacteria, as Fermentation begins.

“This new life force changes the fundamental nature of the material in what the alchemists saw as a process of spiritization [the second phase in Fermentation].

“Psychological Fermentation is the introduction of new life into the purified presence that developed during Conjunction. This child of the Conjunction, however, is really just a melding of opposites of the personality that may still be contaminated with traces of ego, so it is necessary to “sacrifice” it to bring about its resurrection on a new level of being.

“During psychological death or Putrefaction, the ‘child’ of the Conjunction, which is the strongest presence you can create within your earthbound personality, is exposed to the decadent humidity of your deepest and most clinging psychic components, the psychological manure in which most of us wallow.”

Hauk continues: “Fermentation then begins with the inspiration of spiritual power from Above that reanimates, energizes, and Fermentation, alchemy, The Soul Is Quickened in Her Grave depicts how putrefaction feels to the Soul. Site credit: www.alchemylab.comenlightens the blackened soul. It can be achieved through various activities that include intense prayer, desire for mystical union, breakdown of the personality, transpersonal therapy, psychedelic drugs, and deep meditation. In simplest terms, Fermentation is a living, loving inspiration from something totally beyond us, something existing wholly Above in the realm of pure mind.”

Like the first “nigredo” stage of Calcination, the Fermentation phase has been associated with the Dark Night of the Soul psychologically.

“Here, we undergo a type of rebirth,” observes Mistlberger, “resulting from the deep willingness to let go of all elements of [ourselves] that no longer serve our spiritual evolution. This marks the true beginning of inner initiation, of entry into a ‘higher’ life in which our best destiny has a chance to unfold.”

This stage is often associated with the peacock due its reported accompaniment of multi-colored visions upon entering the spiritization phase, known as “the peacock’s tail.”

site credit:, artist unknown, alchemy peacocks tail

Interestingly, the cobalt blue center of the peacock’s tail is often used in Eastern mystical symbolism to represent “the blue pearl,” a third eye phenomenon observed by meditators during practice.

6. Distillation (“It rises from Earth to Heaven and descends again to Earth, thereby combining within Itself the powers of both the Above and the Below.”)

Chemically this stage involves the boiling and condensation of the fermented solution to increase its purity, such as takes place in the distilling of wine to make brandy.

“Psychologically,” Mistlberger details, “distillation represents a further purification process, being about an ongoing process of integrating our spiritual realizations with our daily lives—dealing with seeming mundane things with integrity, being as impeccable in our lives as we can be, and not using the inner work as a means by which to escape the world…

Sacrifice of the Pelican shows Soul and Spirit being purified in Water during the Distillation operation, alchemy, site credit

“…At this stage remaining impurities, hidden as ‘shadow’ elements in the mind, are flushed out and released, crucial if they are not to surface later on (a phenomena that can be seen to occur when a reputed saint, sage, or wise person, operating from a relatively advanced level of self-realization, appears to have a fall from grace).”

Mistlberger tells us that a common alchemical symbol for this stage is the Green Lion devouring the sun, suggesting “a robust triumph and an embracing of a limitless source of energy.”


7. Coagulation (“Thus will you obtain the Glory of the Whole Universe. All Obscurity will be clear to you. This is the greatest Force of all powers, because it overcomes every Subtle thing and penetrates every Solid thing.” )

“The end result,” concludes Mistlberger, “is the Philosopher’s Stone, also sometimes called the Androgyne, and is often symbolized by the Phoenix, the bird that has arisen from the ashes.

Phoenix_Reborn_by_Iron_Phoenix deviantart

“This is closely connected to the idea of the Resurrection Body of mystical Christianity, or the Rainbow Body of Tibetan Buddhism, which includes the esoteric idea of the ability to navigate all possible levels (dimensions) of reality, without loss of consciousness.

“It is the form of the illumined and fully transformed human, in which matter has been spiritualized, or the spiritual has fully entered the material. Heaven and Earth seen as one, or as the Buddhists say, nirvana (the absolute, or formless) is samsara (the world of form). At this end stage, whatever we set eyes on we see the divine, as we have come to realize our own full divinity.”

rainbow body, tibetan buddhism, site credit:

Below, an alchemical woodcut depicts the Stone as eternally youthful and fully integrated. He controls the forces of duality and fends off any materialistic advances on his unified Soul and Spirit

Mercury Becomes the Stone depicts the Stone as eternally youthful, fully integrated Mercury. He controls the forces of duality and fends off any materialistic advances on his unified Soul and Spirit. site credit:

“In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself.

 “The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia.” ~ Carl Jung



*To see where you might be on the path of alchemical process, take a test at

How To Be A Living, Breathing Dreamcatcher: A Conversation With Rachael Rice

January 14, 2013 § 13 Comments

By T’ai Carmen

Rachael Rice is an Oklahoma-born, Vermont-bred dream coach, artist, digital media maven, teacher and dreamcatcher maker —  featured in the likes of People Magazine– living in Portland, Oregon. We met at an event offering free workshops for women — I was leading a poetry workshop and she was teaching a class on making dreamcatchers. Her creations and creative spirit alike are inspiring to behold.

from www.rachaelrice.comRachael, I’ve been calling 2013 the year of the dream. I saw the other day on your Facebook page that you’ve coined the same term! Dream actualization is in the air! Transformative culture is on the rise. What are your thoughts on this moment of history in which we find ourselves and the role of the dreamer in the modern age? 

Well I think it’s some pretty intense karma to be alive now. I mean, now we really know about the consequences of our actions: www.rachaelrice.comhow unlimited growth doesn’t work in a closed system like Earth, how coal and combustion engines make polar bears grip their tiny ice shards. We have more awareness than ever of the scope of human suffering — AND potential.

I choose to put all my energy into working with others who are building whatever is coming next. I don’t get real upset about politics because I don’t think the answers to the world’s problems are going to come from the government (although it would benefit greatly I think from a presence of women commensurate in proportion to its electorate) — I think the answers to the world’s problems will come from creatives: artists, dreamers, song-singers, and the like.

dreamcatcher by

Can you tell us more about Cosmic American Dream Support? from, cosmic woman,SOUCRE: biscodeja-vu, via palomaquerida)

So I began to notice that I’d sit down with someone to talk about her website, and we’d end up talking about whether or not she wanted kids, or the fact that she really wanted to forgive her sister, or quit her day job and be a writer. So the conversation about branding quickly turned to the Big Dream, what we want out of life, and I found that I was pretty good at using the online branding process to help clients achieve more clarity about what they really wanted to be doing. Now I have a group of women that I coach in what I’m calling Dream School: A Solopreneur Salon for Creatives. We get together and use various tools — everything from smudge sticks  to Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map to Seth Godin’s blog to Tara Gentile‘s writing about money to Pixie Campbell‘s SouLodge animal wisdom teachings. It’s a very spiritual, very practical approach to running a business as a creative person.

Can you give us more insight into the traditional uses of dreamcatchers, as well as what they mean to you?546194_511917915498133_1654030775_n

Well the dreamcatcher originated with the Ojibwa Nation and were often used above a child’s cradle, as a mobile to capture and filter out the bad dreams (there are various iterations of this theme). The Pan-Indian movement of the 60’s and 70’s saw the dreamcatcher popularized as a uniting image, and it has certainly become quite commercialized and appropriated by white girls like me since then. I grew up in a time when “multiculturalism” was part of arts education and I learned to make them in Oklahoma, much as you would learn to make snowshoes or Ukrainian eggs.

Then I became a public school art teacher and explored all manner of dreamcatcher, Rachael Rice, as featured in People Magazineindigenous and non-western art and craft. Now there’s a lot more mindfulness (or there should be) around cultural appropriation so I understand it’s tricky to create art inspired by Native American imagery. The spiritual nature of the objects I create exists only as an expression of what I think is beautiful, I claim no heritage other than the space occupied by my own heart. They are not marketed as sacred objects (though they are to me, but so is my guitar). I use mostly salvaged materials, and as much as possible I source my feathers from happy birds on farms. I donate to the Native American Youth and Family Association of Portland, as a token of thanks.

What advice would you give to people trying to break through issues of anxiety, depression, creative stagnation and/or self-doubt?

I share this issue. I would call it a spiritual assignment. I’ve had some serious trauma in life that has resulted in the need for clinical support. I do believe in therapy (I’m a fan of the alphabet soup evidence-based therapies like CBT, DBT, and especially ACT). But therapy is like food, you have to try a lot of it to find out what you like. And some of us need medication, as over-prescribed as it is. Prozac is my friend. I haven’t tried ayahuasca yet but certainly psychedelic drugs have influenced my capacity to wonder.

from, source: coyotenegro, via urban--hippie

I love 12-Step work, because of its accountability, and its helpfulness in dismantling egoic narcissism. You don’t have to believe in God(s) to have a higher power, you know? I adore the work of Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hahn, Eckart Tolle and all those folks talking about the nature of the soul. I think body centered practices like EFT tapping, yoga, and other healing modalities can get to places that talk-based therapies can’t reach. You know, none of these approaches work unless you’re really willing to be very, very VERY uncomfortable. And a lot of people aren’t. They’re very attached to their stories about themselves, their Pain Bodies, the narratives imposed upon them by the operating system downloaded into their bodies by their DNA, their parents, their society.

from www.rachaelrice.comMy advice is to stay away from alcohol and read about Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. Get a sense of the Observer Self that’s there all the time, no matter how you’re feeling. Cultivate gratitude. Every single day. We have every modern convenience, every imaginable advantage. If you don’t believe me, go turn your water on and off. There is no excuse to not have a life that is meaningful and rewarding, full of connection and service.

We over-emphasize the mind in our culture. We think it’s important to not have negative thoughts a lot. Well, some of us were programmed to have a lot of negative thoughts. That’s not such a big deal. The sun will become a red giant and in 10,000 years none of it will matter, you don’t have to take your negative thoughts and feelings so seriously. Pay attention to the activities that make time fly by, to the things that give your life meaning. And choose behaviors that align with those things, no matter what your mind may be doing. This will often be really uncomfortable. It’s the yoga of the development. But the amazing thing is that, if you choose different behaviors, you’ll have different feelings!

Try to view all your relationships as assignments from your soul. Entertain the possibility that your soul chose this body, and these circumstances, at this time, to best learn how to be at home in your own heart.

from, source: randomfarks, via moon womanrising

You’ve described yourself as a “living, breathing dream catcher.” I love this idea. Can you describe for us how others might achieve this?

Figure out how you want to feel (specifically, not just generically) and identify actions that create those feelings. Like, I want to rachael rice, www.rachaelrice.comfeel expanded, inspired, abundant, divinely feminine, and useful. I can’t feel that way and have a normal day job. But other people can.

My new thing is to buy the coffee of the person behind me in a drive-through, especially if I’m feeling particularly contracted around money. It shifts everything for me, and I get to drive away before they can even thank me! Awesome!! Abundance is a feeling, and I have plenty. Pay attention to how your body feels in reaction to your environment. To the food you eat. To the conversations you have. If you’re unsure of your soul’s purpose, try to help others in some way. Be of service. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Surround yourself with people who make you feel more like yourself. I spend 80% of my time alone, and that’s ok. I’m sensitive. Always be asking, “why do I want this?” And notice, right in this moment, you are safe.

from, Source: abstrused, via crystal-elixir

Is there a particular philosophy by which you live your life?

I dig engaged Buddhism. I think it’s important to know the land we walk on, to re-indigenize ourselves: where my water comes from, what plants are edible, who was here before me, from which direction do storms blow in. I believe in forgiveness.

What would you say is your number one inspiration?

The natural world. Or Lady Gaga. It’s a toss-up.

Where Am I?

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