Alchemy for Dummies (part 2)

         Alchemy is said to be worked in three parts, Nigredo, Albedo, and Rubedo, which are all named for a different color associated with each stage of the Great Work. It begins in darkness, in a stage called Nigredo, which corresponds to the two Hermetic elements of force, Fire and Water. The precise alchemical processes associated with the elements of Nigredo are called Calcination and Dissolution, meaning that the thing which is being alchemized is first reduced to ashes in a crucible and then these ashes are dissolved in water. As far as metaphors go, this is obviously a painful one, although, if done properly, it’s the only part that has to hurt.

          Psychologically, growth begins in Nigredo, as our unconscious naturally responds to painful experiences with some amount of emotion. These emotions provide us with the prima materia, or prime matter, on which we will focus all further Alchemical efforts. Any sort of force external to oneself, if it is sufficient to break one down, becomes an internal force in the form of an emotional response. This process, particularly if one would like to raise their emotional melting point, bears further examination.

          Such self-examination, then, begins in Alchemy’s second stage, Albedo, which is named for the pure white light of consciousness itself, and corresponds to the two Hermetic elements of form, Air and Earth, and is associated with the Alchemical processes of Separation and Conjunction. In Separation, the products of Dissolution are isolated via filtration and impurities are discarded. With the process of Conjunction, what remains is recombined to produce a new, purified, whole. This is said to complete the Lesser Stone, and sets the stage for the final Alchemical processes necessary to complete the Greater, or Philosopher’s, Stone.

          When all is completed, the Rebis (double thing), often referred to as a Hermaphrodite at this stage in the work, can be made into an Androgyne, so that what was once dual becomes unified and whole. The Hermaphrodite being referenced here is not simply a being with dual sexual organs, but should be understood as an amalgamation of things ruled by the god Hermes, a god the science, writing, speech, and the mind, with things ruled by the goddess Aphrodite, a goddess of love, passion, poetry and the arts; in short, the mental and the emotional aspects of all human beings, or, as some might refer to it today, our left and our right brains.

            Let’s recap the Alchemical work up to this point in even simpler terms. What Hermetic philosophers symbolize as fire, which is external force, often begets water, internal force, and this is the inspiration for all of our latter alchemical efforts. Thus the initiation of our alchemical work is provided naturally by the world, since fire is all around us, within all of the activity we observe in the world, even mere spoken words, because all of these things fall under the category of externalized forces, and any of these may provoke the uncontrollable emotional responses that we as Alchemists would like to rise above.

When these forces create a reaction inside of us, we can apply consciousness as part of the next Alchemical step in order to properly address the disturbance, and by doing so transform our portion of what Hermetics call “air” and “earth,” meaning our personal experience of form, internally and externally, into new and better arrangements that will adjust and modify this transference of forces until it’s more to our liking. This is a simple formula for self-improvement and for improving one’s life experience, although, up to this step, it is largely an intrapersonal experiment, meaning one is only resolving opposition within one’s own mind and body. The next stage completes the great work by moving our Alchemical focus onto the world itself.
          This Alchemical focus on the unification of opposites was expressed most strongly by their references to the Great Work as an “Alchemical Marriage,” one between the Lunar Queen, or the Soul, and the Solar King, who represents our Spirit. While the second stage of the Alchemical work is completed with the reintegration of the heart and mind, two internal parts of human consciousness driven apart by defense mechanisms that protect us from painful experiences, this unification of self has only just prepared one for the true realization of the Great Work.  Emotional pain provides us with the prime matter of our work, because only by examining the root causes of our distress and cognitive dissonance can we return to a unified consciousness, free from internal conflict and division, and, having groomed ourselves thus, we are finally able to move onto the final Alchemical undertaking, approaching our marriage with the Anima Mundi and our final apotheosis.

          This is the last stage, the Rubedo, in which an “alien intelligence” enters the equation, and although I responded quite defensively to this idea at first, I’ve come to realize that this alien is also largely metaphoric as well, a symbol for all of the other conscious forces that lie outside of and beyond the bounds of our own unified and individuated self-consciousnesses.

This is why the Rubedo, or the red stage, is considered the proving ground for all the internal work which has come before it. We must reconcile ourselves with the world in order to become truly whole, and our tremendous amount of inner work, carried out in the first two stages of the Alchemical process, is what makes this reconciliation possible.

            Magic transpires within a very subtle realm of synthesis between self and other. Many Magicians try to claim that the power lies entirely within them, but then how do they explain the obvious limitations that seem to be imposed on their will? Christians believe that all such power is the work of demons, and, upon honest examination, this seems to be just as good an explanation for magical phenomenon as any other.

Obviously, many of you, if you’re reading a book like this, will have bulked at that last sentence. Occultists reject such an idea for obvious reasons, not only because they are proud and arrogant about their own power, but because they feel that it validates a Christian worldview and their belief in the Great Controversy which they claim exists between God and the Devil. Wiccans and other pagans are all quick to point out that the Devil is a purely Christian concept, which they don’t acknowledge much less engage ritually, and obviously modern scientifically minded psychics see no reason to cloud the realm of para-psychological study with such religious nonsense. All of these objections are reasonable, but short sighted.

In order to truly become one with a power that most only play with, and are played with in return, you must accept the reality of your own mortal limitations and, only with such honest humility and rare self-awareness, one can accept the agency of these power within the world and offer oneself as an unshakable witness who is able to provide this occult force with a clean and stalwart vessel through which this power can flow and work one’s highest will.

Before Christ, we knew these forces as Daemons, and we embraced them, but then, something happened. The figure of Christ was held up as a warning to all other Daemons and their Magicians that there could be only one Alchemical Marriage, between one God and his one magician, Jesus of Nazareth. The modern Christian movement has thus usurped the fifth stage of the alchemical work, displaying the sacrifice of Christ as sufficient to buy us all, and obviously taking precedence over our own meager offerings to inferior spirits.

According to the Christian world view, only this one man and one god may be united, and we are all merely to serve this shining exemplar; never knowing, or even daring to think, that we too could follow in his footsteps and claim such power for ourselves.

The Great Work, which was accomplished by Jesus himself and countless other Alchemists, ends with the marriage of a purified mortal to a higher spiritual intelligence, so that these two parts can at last become seamlessly integrated; a sane and reasonable human being with a force that can now express itself without reservation in the magical will of its worthy host.

Mortificatio, which is sometimes also called Fermentation, is the critical operation which begins the final stage of Alchemy. As a chemical process, it involves the growth of a ferment bacterium in an organic solution. For the Alchemist, however, it begins with his or her awareness of the signs and wonders that will open up an active dialogue between the Magician and his Daemon.

Yet the process of integration takes time, and the next alchemical operation, Distillation, involves the gradual changes which must occur in order to complete the solidification of this new union. As a physical process, Distillation is the boiling and condensation of the fermented solution to increase its purity, like wine into brandy. Once one begins this last stage of the great work, one must maintain the same honest self evaluation and reasoning processes with should have become habitual during the Albedo stage, but, as many strange and new experiences will be introduced into one’s life to coincide with presence of this new supernatural element, this feeling of “hot water” is what we refer to as the distillation phase of the work, which separates the weak from the strong.

Those who pass through these troubled waters, however, will be able to complete the Great Work, which ends in the process we call Coagulation. When successful, this is nothing less than the union of the physical and the spiritual to produce an incarnate god.

If one fails to properly apply due diligence, however, in any of the preceding alchemical stages, then, I can assure you, the results may be far less than divine, but certainly none of you would approach such intense work without first considering the dire consequences of failing to take it very seriously, now would you?

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