Alchemy, Jung, and the Esoteric Tradition

Alchemy, Jung, and the Esoteric Tradition
Rod Davis

In preparing to write this paper, I re-read several sections of Jung's autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I was particularly fascinated by the chapter called “The Work” in which he describes his encounter with alchemy and the important role that it came to play in providing a historical precedent for his psychology of the unconscious. His early attitude toward alchemy as “off the beaten track and rather silly”1) began to change when he read the Secret of the Golden Flower, the Chinese alchemical text sent to him by Richard Wilhelm. Even after this the Western alchemical texts at first glance seemed like utter nonsense to him, but he was intrigued by them and within a couple of years, resolved to explore them in greater depth. Eventually he realized that the alchemists used the language of symbols, “those old acquaintances of mine. 'Why, this is fantastic,' I thought. 'I simply must learn to decipher all this.”2) Jung then spent most of the next ten years in a monumental and systematic undertaking of considerable philological complexity “to solve the riddle of an unknown language. In this way the alchemical mode of expression gradually yielded up its meaning.”3)

He realized by this time the critical importance of alchemy to his work: “I had stumbled upon the historical counterpart of my psychology of the unconscious. The possibility of a comparison with alchemy, and the uninterrupted intellectual chain back to Gnosticism, gave substance to my psychology.”4) “Only after I had familiarized myself with alchemy did I realize that the unconscious is a process, and that the psyche is transformed or developed by the relationship of the ego to the contents of the unconscious…. Through the study of these collective transformation processes (i.e. dreams, myths, and religious symbolism) and through understanding alchemical symbolism I arrived at the central concept of my psychology: the process of individuation.”5)

Jung's incredible journey of discovery, and the central role that alchemy plays in it, reads like a great adventure story—and so it is, one of the classic accounts of 20th-century autobiographical literature. I cannot but admire Jung's courage and devotion to his work, often far afield from the accepted conventional scientific views of his time, and his remarkable capacity for exploring the hidden world of the human psyche and imagination. I was introduced to alchemy through his work, as many others have been, so it is in the spirit of respect for his accomplishment and {2} profound indebtedness to his work that I now wish to question and, in fact, challenge some of his assumptions and conclusions regarding the Western alchemical tradition, contrasting them with a “traditionalist” or “hermetist”6) approach that sees alchemy as an esoteric tradition that encodes within its cryptic and symbolic language a path to spiritual mastery and self-actualization that cannot be contained within, or reduced to, Jung's psychological concept of individuation.

Jung regarded alchemy as the historical forerunner of his analytic psychology, lacking only the modern scientific understanding of the unconscious that would have enabled the alchemists to acquire true reflective self-knowledge. In their quest to unlock the secrets of nature hidden within matter and learn how matter could be transformed from one state into another (lead into gold, and so forth), they projected their own unconscious contents and processes onto metals as if these were the actual qualities of matter.7) The partial realization of and conscious participation in this process on the part of the more dedicated and astute alchemists imbued the whole procedure with its mystical flavor and its overall sense of being a religious quest8). In focusing much attention on the goal of his work, the lapis or philosopher's stone (along with other closely related symbols), the alchemist “sensed and intuited the archetype of wholeness,”9) giving visibility and symbolic concretization to the deep unconscious urge for transcendent wholeness that always initiates the process of individuation. In The Visions of Zosimos, Jung says that “the lapis represents the idea of a transcendent totality which coincides with what analytical psychology calls the self,”10)—i.e. the central archetype or structuring principle of the composite psyche.

Jung's concept of projection, the process by which unconscious forces are spontaneously represented in myth and symbols or are consciously believed to be the properties or qualities of external reality (i.e. the possession of the objects of consciousness), is perhaps the key to understanding his approach to alchemy, and for that matter, to his entire psychology of the unconscious. Projection occurs, he says, “when the inquiring mind lacks the necessary self-criticism in investigating an unknown quantity.”11) Without a sufficient knowledge of the functioning of the mind, the alchemists projected their own inner processes onto matter, thereby illumining the deeper strata of the psyche, and eventually gaining an awareness of “the nature of the process and its goal…. Occasionally they made chemical discoveries in passing as was only to be expected; but what they really discovered, and what was an endless source of fascination to them, was the symbolism of the individuation process.”12) “This procedure (i.e. projection) was not, of course, intentional; it was an involuntary occurrence.”13) Jung believed that as the alchemists were immersed in their laboratory work, during times of great absorption and concentration, the chemical events that occurred were often accompanied by experiences {3} of intense affect with a visionary or hallucinatory quality-obviously “projections of unconscious contents.”14) “As a result of the projection there is an unconscious identity between the psyche of the alchemist and the arcane transforming substance, i.e., the spirit imprisoned in matter.”15)

Jung, then, paints a picture of individuals intently seeking for the hidden mysteries of nature and matter, which they always failed to find, but who discovered as a by-product at first the symbolic representation of their own inner development, of which some, at least, gained a partial intuitive understanding, evoking an attitude of conscious cooperation and encouragement accompanied by all the emotion and numinosity of a spiritual search. The alchemical tradition with its 1500-year history convinced Jung that his newly-developed psychology of the unconscious, in which the symbolism of the individuation process constitutes the central theme, did indeed have a solid historical precedent, albeit one that lacked the psychological maturity which became possible only at the later stage in the evolution of consciousness which was ushered into existence with the rise of depth psychology in the modern scientific era (i.e. the ability through reflective self-awareness to stand sufficiently apart from our unconscious projections and identifications to integrate their energy into an enriched and deepened consciousness16)).

An esoteric spiritual tradition is one in which the core teachings and experiences of inner transformation are fully revealed only to those individuals who are initiated into the mysteries of that tradition. Generally, this occurs as the result of an unshakable long-term commitment to spiritual development through the guidance offered by the tradition.17) That Western alchemy was such a tradition seems indisputable. Eliade, the great historian of religions, clearly reaches this conclusion in his wonderful little book on alchemy, The Forge and the Crucible,18) and Jung himself continuously points out the mysticism implicit in the alchemical literature. Those within the tradition know it to be a path of spiritual mastery, the purposeful culmination of life's intrinsic evolutionary unfolding.

The disagreement that I and others have with Jung arises from a clear difference in understanding and interpreting the spiritual“ nature of the alchemical magnum opus (great work). Jung claimed that its mysticism derived from the numinosity of the alchemist's encounter with the transpersonal elements of the collective unconscious which they projected onto matter in their search for the secrets hidden therein which would give them mastery over the forces of nature. In his essay, The Conjunction, Jung states bluntly that ”….the mystical experiences of the saints are no different from other effects of the unconscious.“19) This is a bold assertion about the nature of spiritual transformation, one that led him to see alchemy as a primitive, albeit fascinating and totally sincere, prefiguration of analytic {4} psychology.

From the esoteric viewpoint, alchemical symbolism was not the result of involuntary (or, at best, semi-conscious) projection, but rather the fully conscious and deliberately chosen vehicle for communicating the supra-rational nature of the spiritual transformation and ultimate transcendence of spirit/matter duality that the devoted alchemists sought. They knew very well that they were pursuing mastery of their own mysterious inner nature20) and sought victory over their own deep unconsciousness; and they did not underestimate the incredible difficulty of such a great task. Those who succeeded became true spiritual teachers, even if they chose to remain unknown.

Encoding their teachings in fantastic and confusing symbols served to veil them behind a heavy curtain of obscurity, so that they remained inaccessible to all who were not fully cognizant of and committed to the true purpose of the work. Many alchemical authors made statements to this effect,21) and of course there is the well-known alchemical injunction “not to cast pearls before swine.”

Additionally, the decoding of this complex symbolism in which no two alchemists used exactly the same system, presented a formidable challenge to the initiate who thereby gained an invaluable education of profound intuitive depth. It is the precise character of alchemical symbolism, and that of other sacred mythologies as well, to be polyvalent, resonating with our experience on more than one level.22) The deeper the spiritually transformative experiences of the adept, the more the inner meaning of the symbols becomes transparent.

Although the philosopher's stone may rightly be called a symbol of the mysterious and unrealizable center of the psyche (the Self, in Jungian psychology), to one who has completed the opus and attained to the truth reflected in the symbol according to the esoteric perspective—it represents the absolute reality of that inconceivable spiritual wholeness in which all duality is transcended and one lives in a fearless state of total freedom and blessedness, beyond the bounds of psychic relativity. The lapis reflects both a psychological truth for Jung (i.e. the transcendent but unrealizable core of the personality) and a corresponding but different spiritual truth for the esoteric alchemists: the transpsychic potential to actualize in this life and in this body the state of pure transcendent unity as the final completion of the creation-process which nature initiates.

The difference between these two orientations becomes most obvious in considering the nature of the opus. Individuation, for Jung, is an on-going process of ever-deepening psychological self-integration, an intuitive self-reflective awareness of the core archetype, the unknowable center/totality of the psyche. The alchemists, however, consistently refer to the completion of their work, using the {5} Philosopher's Stone and other symbols to represent it. Their goal is the concrete attainment of the unknowable, the non-dual essence of matter and spirit, life and consciousness, female and male. The coniunctio, or conjunction of opposites, for the alchemists is possible only through the unifying spiritual force of transcendence, not through the healthy integration of the ego with the energy of the collective unconscious. That, of course, is necessary, but it falls far short of the radical non-duality of the mysterium coniunctionis. The alchemist Khunrath states: ”…..of itself, from, in and through itself is made and perfected the stone of the wise. For it is one thing only….“23) It is called radix ipsius, root of itself. These, and many others like them, are expressions of non-duality. The coniunctio, like the lapis, is a symbol that reflects polyvalent truths which are revealed in greater fullness as inner experience deepens. The true alchemists, so say those who consider themselves within the esoteric tradition, were rare individuals who pursued with unrelenting intensity the awakening of the arcane spiritual potential hidden within the depths of their own being, many of whom fully actualized this potential and so gained the golden germ of indestructibility at the very heart of creation.

Jung always proposed a psychological explanation in confronting assertions of possibility for such a radical spiritual fulfillment.24) His insistence on the “primitive”25) nature of their unconscious projections is far removed from the alchemists own stated goals to conquer the “dragon” of the unconscious life-force, to release the latent spiritual power within it, and finally to solidify the “stone of the wise,” the incorruptible spiritual body.26) These are two very different visions of their psychological and spiritual maturity, as well as of the maximum human potential for transformation. As a committed student of esoteric tradition, I cannot accept Jung's implicit assumption that the alchemists lacked sufficient self-knowledge to grasp fully the nature of their own inner transformation. Of course, all spiritual exploration involves a certain “groping” to find the way, but the alchemical symbolism was molded, with full awareness, by those who found the way and reached the end of the longissima via, the very long path.27) Even though they did not have access to the conceptual language of modern depth psychology, their self-knowledge was—experientially—as thorough and deep as is humanly possible.

In a gem of an article entitled C. G. Jung and Alchemy, included as an appendix in The Forge and the Crucible, Mircea Eliade explores and, to some extent, resolves the seeming discrepancy between alchemy as an esoteric discipline and Jung's psychological interpretation of it. He sees them as corresponding levels of inner initiation. Eliade, of course, had spent many years intimately studying an ancient esoteric tradition (yoga) and understood the true nature of the transformational process at its core (i.e. at least as well as any scholar could who sympathetically enters into the tradition, but lacks the full experience of the inner initiation). He concludes that the individuation process “must be regarded as a prefiguration of the opus alchymicum, or more accurately, an 'unconscious imitation,' for the use of {6} all beings, of an extremely difficult initiation process reserved only for a small spiritual elite.”28)

The spontaneous occurrence of alchemical symbolism in the dreams, fantasies, and visions of modern people no doubt indicates the presence of an unconscious initiatory process at work, which individual consciousness can encourage and assist and perhaps even direct to some extent through self-awareness and committed self-development. In this way a vital intuitive connection can be created to the transpersonal core of the psyche as the guiding force of one's life, and a sense of spiritual feeling may accompany this process. All of us are well-advised to deepen this integration to the full extent that we can.

The successful alchemists were uniquely inspired individuals, I believe, who went even further on the path of self-knowledge, exploring with tenacious and secret devotion the invisible world within, and eventually gaining real mastery over all the forces of unconsciousness within human nature, as mysteriously unexplainable as that possibility may seem to us. And like all true mystics, they do not try to explain the mystery of spiritual transformation, only to help point the way, through their amazing symbolism, to those few seekers who care to unravel the mystery for themselves, as difficult and uncertain of success as that undertaking is. For various reasons, one of which was certainly safety and relative obscurity, another of which was the assumed correspondence between the invisible spiritual world (“Above”) and the manifest visible world (“Below”)29), they encoded their teachings in the symbolic language of the “royal art,” that of turning base metals into gold.

Zosimos is an early Hellenistic alchemist living in Egypt around the beginning of the fourth century of the common era. He is considered an authority and master of the art by all later alchemists. He evidently compiled a great deal of information about alchemy from various sources, most of which is now lost. One treatise still extant, though, is a remarkable account of an inner vision or series of visions pertaining to the art. In 1937 Jung published one of his early works on alchemy, a psychological commentary on these visions, called The Visions of Zosimos. While I have no intention or need to consider Jung's commentary in all its detailed exploration of alchemical symbolism, I want to examine his treatment of the primary themes of the Zosimos text in the light of my own intuition of their esoteric significance.30)

In contemplating the “composition of the waters,” the underlying truths of nature's process of transformation, Zosimos says he falls asleep and has a vision or series of visions all with basically the same theme: spiritual transformation through purificatory self-sacrifice in the boiling “divine waters” and the violent tearing {7} apart of the body and its reconstitution in a new form. Jung makes a case for these visions being an actual revelatory dream that Zosimos is conveying. Other commentators consider them purely allegorical creations which reveal their meaning to the attuned ears of other adepts of the art.31) I lean in the latter direction, and I will point out that “sleep” as Zosimos used it, may also refer metaphorically to a state of deep meditative absorption in which the meditator is completely unconscious of the body and the environment, and in which all normal mental functioning ceases as well. This may be the case in the famous Hermetic text, Poimandres,32) which we know Zosimos held in very high regard. If Zosimos used sleep in this way, then he was allegorically describing his inner transformation wrought through the process of immersion in a state of transcendent consciousness.

In his vision, whether real or allegorical (or some combination of the two), Zosimos encounters a sacrificing priest “standing before me, high up on an altar, which was in the shape of a bowl”33) filled with boiling water. “I am Ion, the priest of the inner sanctuaries, and I submit myself to unendurable torment,” he says. He describes his mutilation, as his flesh and bones are “burned upon the fire of the art,” and as Zosimos watches, the priest turns into a little disfigured man who “spewed forth all his own flesh.” Zosimos awakes and realizes that he is witnessing the “composition of the waters,” i.e. the inner mystery of transformation in the heart of nature. He sleeps again, and sees the “seething of the water, and the men burning yet alive.” The vision of torture continues in this vein in several episodes. Zosimos is told: “those who seek to obtain the art (or moral perfection) enter here, and they cast their bodies from them and become spirits. The practice (of the art) is explained by this procedure; for whatever casts off the grossness of the body becomes spirit.”

In commenting on the meaning of these images, Zosimos says, “what is the cause of this vision? Is not that boiling white and yellow water the divine water?” He describes this as the method of nature transforming nature. He advises the reader to build a temple from a single stone….Let it have within it a spring of the purest water, sparkling like the sun.” The opening is narrow, and a dragon lay at the entrance. We are told to slay him and grind his flesh and bones, mixing them and using them as a step by which we can enter the temple.

Jung says that “in these visions all those contents emerge which the alchemists unconsciously projected into the chemical process and which were then perceived there, as though they were qualities of matter.”34) At the end of his commentary, he concludes: “When Kekule (a 19th-century German chemist) had his dream of the dancing pairs and deduced from it the structure of the benzol ring, he accomplished something that Zosimos strove for in vain. His 'composition of the waters' did not fall into as neat a pattern as did the carbon and hydrogen atoms of the benzol ring. Alchemy projected an inner, psychic experience into chemical substances {8} that seemed to hold out mysterious possibilities but nevertheless proved refractory to the intentions of the alchemist.”35)

In the esoteric tradition, Zosimos is venerated as a great alchemical master, a spiritual teacher of the highest order. He was never thought of as displaying the unconscious naiveté which Jung accords him, or failing to accomplish that for which he strove. His purpose was not to discover the structure of metals or the nature of metallic transformation in any scientific sense, but to learn the arcane principles of natural transformation which he could apply to his own material/ psychic organism to transmute it into its true immortal spiritual nature.

The theme of sacrifice is widespread in sacred mythology and esoteric literature. Jung states: “The central image in our dream-vision shows us a kind of sacrificial act undertaken for the purpose of alchemical transformation. It is characteristic of this rite that the priest is at once the sacrificer and the sacrificed.”36) He points out that “Christ was a god who sacrificed himself.”37) Initiation in esoteric tradition follows essentially the same pattern as it does in shamanic tradition-suffering, death and resurrection—but only on the inner psychospiritual level.38) This process is certainly the key to alchemical transmutation, regardless whether it is conceived on the physical, psychological, or spiritual level.39)

Zosimos clearly states the purpose of the ordeal: the separation of the spirit from the body. As a student of esoteric tradition, I am familiar with the very real psychological sacrifice and even violence that this most difficult stage in spiritual development entails. The withdrawal of projections is carried to a degree that is almost unimaginable. As one example, let me quote Lama Govinda, from the Tibetan Tantra tradition: “In the ecstatic thrust towards the realization of totality…all bonds, all worldly fetters, all prejudices and illusions are destroyed, all conventional concepts are swept away, all craving and clinging is cut off at the root, past and future are extinguished, the power of karma is broken….”40) He describes the terrifying violence and power of this ego-transcending process, symbolized by the fierce dancing of the blood-drinking deities.

Zosimos' “divine water” in which he is “boiled” is, as Jung points out, the baptismal water, “the water that kills and vivifies. ”41) It is the aqua permanens that kills the limited identification of oneself as body and mind, and brings to life the immortal spiritual being, the “child of the philosophers,” the arcane substance that normally remains hidden deep within the heart of manifest creation.42) It is a path of transformation that requires the ultimate sacrifice—one's very life-blood—and yields the final reward—the incorruptibility of pure gold. Jesus surely pointed down the same path when he said: “for whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”43) It is a path only a few care to walk down. {9} The bowl, high upon the altar, to which the seeker climbs in order to be immersed in the bath of transcendent consciousness (the boiling divine waters) that purifies the soul and transmutes its very nature into incorruptible spirit, is Zosimos version of the famous Hermetic symbol, the krater or basin. It is the container of incorporeal divine mind (nous) and is placed before human souls as the greatest spiritual prize which they may win.44) The Hermetic text, which we can assume Zosimos knew very well, claims that those who dip themselves in this “bath” receive gnosis, knowledge of God or spirit.

Jung's interpretation of the alchemical art of Zosimos is far afield from the esoteric perspective: “Zosimos' consciousness is still so much under the spell of the projection that he can see in the vision nothing more than the composition of the waters.' One sees how in those days consciousness turned away from the mystic process and fastened its attention upon the material one, and how the projection drew the mind towards the physical. For the physical world had not yet been discovered. Had Zosimos recognized the projection, he would have fallen back into the fog of mystic speculation, and the development of the scientific spirit would have been delayed for an even longer time.”45)

These are two different versions of Zosimos the alchemist: one as a spiritual master of the “royal art” who chose to convey his esoteric experience and teaching through the veiled symbols of his vision; the other as an individual intent on discovering the secrets of metallic transmutation who unconsciously projects his own inner psychic process onto the metals themselves. My purpose has been to try to distinguish as clearly as possible these two approaches to alchemy. While I do not agree with Jung's assessment of the alchemists, their motivations, and their accomplishments, I nevertheless agree with Eliade's statement that the individuation process represents an alchemical initiation on the psychological level. I am convinced that individuation leads us deeper into our own mysterious inner nature, which-once awakened-may propel us down a path of no return. Towards the end of his autobiography, Jung wrote: “The decisive question for man is: Is he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his life. Only if we know that the thing which truly matters is the infinite can we avoid fixing our interest upon futilities, and upon all kinds of goals which are not of real importance.46) Yes!



Edinger, Edward E. Anatomy of the Psyche. Lasalle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Co., 1985.

Eliade, Mircea. The Forge and the Crucible. Trans. S. Corrin. 1956. Reprint, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Evola, Julius. The Hermetic Tradition. Trans. E. E. Rehmus. 1971. Reprint, Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1995.

Holmyard, E. J. Alchemy. 1957. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1990.

Jung, C. G. Alchemical Studies (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 13). Trans. R. F. C. Hull. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967.

Jung, C. G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. 1961. Reprint, New York: Random House, 1965.

Jung, C. G. Mysterium Coniunctionis (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 14). Trans. R. F. C. Hull 1963. Reprint, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977.

Jung, C. G. Psychology and Alchemy (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 12). Trans. R. F. C. Hull. 1944. Reprint, New York: Pantheon Books, 1953.

Lama Anagarika Govinda. Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1960.

Layton, Bentley. The Gnostic Scriptures. 1987. Reprint, New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Lindsay, Jack. The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt. London: Frederick Muller Ltd., 1970.

de Nicolás, Antonio T., trans. St. John of the Cross: Alchemist of the Soul. 1989. New York: Paragon House.

Scott, Walter, trans, and ed. Hermetica. 1982. Reprint, Boston: Shambhala, 1993.

Silberer, Herbert. Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts. Trans. S. E. Jelliffe. 1917 (first published under the title Problems of Mysticism and its Symbolism). Reprint, New York: Dover, 1971.


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R. & C. Winston, trans., in C. G. Jung, p. 204.
ibid., p. 204.
ibid., p. 205.
ibid., p. 205
R. & C. Winston, trans., in C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 209. Individuation can be understood as the process of the ego's confrontation with the transpersonal depth of the psyche, i.e. the archetypes of the collective unconscious, and the gradual integration of unconscious content into consciousness with the accompanying release of psychic energy, thereby transforming and unifying the whole psyche.
Mircea Eliade uses these terms. See S. Corrin, trans., in The Forge and the Crucible, p. 222.
see R. F. C. Hull, trans., in C. G. Jung, Alchemical Studies (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 13), p. 67.
In discussing Mercurius, the primary personification of transformation and the transforming medium in Renaissance alchemy, Jung states: “…for not only Mercurius but what happens to him is a projection of the collective unconscious. This….is the projection of the individuation process, which, being a natural psychic occurrence, goes on even without the participation of consciousness. But if consciousness participates with some measure of understanding, then the process is accompanied by all the emotions of a religious experience or revelation. As a result of this, Mercurius was identified with Sapientia and the Holy Ghost.” R. F. C. Hull, trans., in C. G. Jung, Alchemical Studies (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 13), p. 229.
R.F. C. Hull, trans., in C. G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 14), p. 544.
R. F. C. Hull, trans., in C. G. Jung, Alchemical Studies (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 13), p. 101.
ibid., p. 211.
R. F. C. Hull, trans., in C. G. Jung, Alchemical Studies (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 13), p. 299.
R. F. C. Hull, trans., in C. G Jung, Psychology and Alchemy (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 12), p. 234.
ibid., p. 239.
ibid., p.255.
“Consciousness develops in civilized man by the acquisition of knowledge and the withdrawal of projections.” R. F. C. Hull, trans., in C. G. Jung, Alchemical Studies (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 13), p. 92. See the entire discussion of “personifications” on pp. 90-94.
Formal initiation rituals (such as baptism, mantra initiation, etc.) are preliminary events that guide an individual toward the transformational and transcendental experiences that comprise the true inner initiation.
See especially p. 183 where Eliade states, “Everywhere we find alchemy, it is always intimately related to a 'mystical' tradition.”
R. F. C. Hull, trans., in C. G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, volume 14), p. 546.
Eliade states: “Without a shadow of a doubt, the Alexandrian alchemists were from the very beginning aware that in pursuing the perfection of metals they were pursuing their own perfection.” p. 158, The Forge and the Crucible.
see Julius Evola's discussion in the preface to his book The Hermetic Tradition. He quotes one alchemist (Artephius): “How can you be so naive as to believe that we would teach you openly and clearly the greatest and most important of our secrets.” See also pp.208-212, “Silence and the Tradition.”
Eliade states: “Every symbolism is polyvalent.” See Stephen Corrin, trans., in The Forge and the Crucible, p. 224. Also, the same idea is discussed by Herbert Silberer in Section III (pp. 373f) of his book Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts. Silberer was the first person to explore alchemy through the lens of analytic psychology, publishing this work in 1917, many years before Jung became interested in alchemy.
quoted in Jung, Alchemical Studies, p. 320. Also the following from the Rosarium, a famous alchemical text: “One is the stone, one the medicine, one the vessel, one the method, and one the disposition.” (again quoted by Jung in Psychology and Alchemy, p. 281, note 12).
See the section “The Self and the Bounds of Knowledge” in Jung's essay The Conjunction, pp. 544-553 in Mysterium Coniunctionis. See especially the bottom of p. 550 and the top of p. 551.
See p. 205 in Alchemical Studies: “On account of the primitive character of its projections, alchemy….” and so on.
For the slaying of the dragon and the release of his spirit, see the rendering of a Greek alchemical poem in Alchemy by E. J. Holmyard, pp. 159-160.
So called in the Rosarium as quoted by Elliade in The Forge and the Crucible, p. 163.
p. 224. The article is found on pp. 221-226, and apparently is a shortened or summarized version of a longer article published in a French journal in 1955.
The most famous of all alchemical treatises, the Emerald Table attributed to the legendary sage Hermes Trismegistus, begins: “True it is, without falsehood, certain and most true. That which is above is like to that which is below, and that which is below is like to that which is above, to accomplish the miracles of one thing.” (quoted in E. J. Holmyard, Alchemy, p. 97) The correspondence between the celestial, transcendent realm and the phenomenal world of matter and images was taken for granted in the philosophy of the ancient world.
I certainly do not claim to fully intuit the symbolism of the visions of Zosimos through resonance with my own inner experience of transformation, but only venture a perspective informed by many years of study and practice within esoteric tradition.
Jack Lindsay in The Origins of Alchemy in Graeco-Roman Egypt states: “The treatise….is an account of what the alchemist saw and felt as the innermost meaning of the process in which he considered himself as much involved as the minerals.” pp. 343-344.
The speaker in this text, Hermes Trismegistus, begins: “Once upon a time, when I was occupied with thought about the existents and my mental faculty was very much uplifted, and my corporeal perceptions had been held in check, like those of people weighed down by sleep after a surfeit of food or physical labor….” Later, he says: “Indeed, the sleep of the body became soberness of soul; the closing of the eyes became true sight; my silence became pregnant with the good….” See The Gnostic Scriptures, translated by Bentley Layton, p. 452 and p. 458.
The text is reproduced in Alchemical Studies, pp.59-65. All direct quotes are from this version.
Alchemical Studies, p. 67.
ibid., p. 108.
36) , 37)
ibid., p. 70.
The inner initiatory transformations may, of course, be given ritual and symbolic expression, as in the Eucharist, the Mystery traditions, yogis smearing their bodies with ash, etc
See the chapter called “Alchemy and Initiation” in Eliade's The Forge and the Crucible (pp. 142-152) for an interesting discussion of this theme.
Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism, p. 273.
from the Rosarium Philosophorum, quoted by Jung in Alchemical Studies, p. 68.
The great 16th-century Spanish Christian mystic, St. John of the Cross, describes the soul's transformation through its infusion by divine or supernatural consciousness in much the same metaphorical language that Zosimos uses. The following passage is from The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, quoted in Antonio T. de Nicolás. St. John of the Cross: Alchemist of the Soul, p. 174.
“…Divine light enters the soul to cook her [sic] and make her divine by this transformation, stripping her of the habitual acts and properties of the old man to which she is so united, attached, and reduced. The spiritual substance of the soul is so cut up and boiled down, she is so deeply absorbed in a mysterious and deep darkness at the sight of her own dissolution and her own melting down in the face of these miseries, that she experiences a cruel spiritual death. It feels as if a large beast had swallowed her and she were being digested in its belly; her anguish is comparable to Jonah's in the belly of the whale (Jon. 2:1-3). It is necessary for the soul to lie in this tomb of dark death so that her spiritual resurrection may take place.”
Quoted by Edward Edinger in Anatomy of the Psyche, p. 172, where he discusses Christ's Passion in relation to the theme of sacrifice in Zosimos' vision.
See tractate #4 in Hermetica, trans. By Walter Scott, p. 151.
Alchemical Studies, p. 91.
R. & C. Winston, trans., in C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 325.