I for Illumination

The ancient practice of alchemy, which thrived in Europe until the seventeenth century, dealt with the phenomenon of transformation--not only of materials (ore into gold) but also of the human spirit (self into Other). Through their work in the material realm, alchemists discovered personal rebirth as well as a linking between outer and inner dimensions.

C. G. Jung first turned to alchemy for personal illumination in coping with trauma brought on by his break with Freud. Alchemical symbolism eventually suggested to Jung that there was a process in the unconscious, one that had a goal beyond discharging tension and hiding pain.

Early alchemical processes were simple. The idea of changing base metals into gold seemed reasonable at the time, as it was assumed metals slowly changed in the earth from one kind to another; surely some simple concoction should suffice to hasten the change, to "ripen" the gold more quickly, as though the alchemist was a sort of metallic gardener. Pounding, grinding, boiling, distillation, and heating in furnaces were the most common methods used at first. As time went on, and neither gold, the philosopher's stone, nor the elixir of life were produced, it became clear that nature was unwilling to yield her secrets easily, and the methods, equipment and the number of steps employed grew more and more complicated, the processes employed ever more severe and torturous.

The purpose of all this frenzied activity was, essentially, to dissolve away from the metal (and, by exact analogy, from oneself) all that was base, inferior, or dross, and coagulate or congeal all that was superior --- i.e., gold. As described in an alchemical text by P.V. Piobb, Clef universalle des sciences secretes, as quoted in J. E. Cirlot's A Dictionary of Symbols, "Analyze all the elements in yourself, dissolve all that is inferior in you, even though you may break in doing so; with the strength acquired from the preceding operation, congeal." Alchemy came to be seen, literally, as a torture of nature through fire, distillation, and other alchemical processes that paralleled the torture of man's soul in his path towards perfection. All of the pain, agony, and effort poured into the attempts at gold-making by the alchemists was allegorical to the pain and suffering required to achieve salvation, and more than allegorical, actual. Gold was the physical symbol of spiritual illumination, and the steps required to achieve it a literal "How To" set of instructions to achieve the goal of spiritual gold. The six symbolic stages of alchemy were: Calcination: death of the profane and the material world; Putrefaction: segregation of the destroyed remains; Solution: purification of matter (washing away the dross); Distillation: isolation of the elements of salvation; Conjunction: joining of opposites; and Sublimation: the suffering resulting from the extreme mystic detachment from the world and the total dedication to spiritual striving.

To facilitate the inner search for the gold of mystical illumination you can work within the Alluvial Mine here at Soul Food.

To discover the veins of gold in this mine you have to use your mouse intuitively. Scroll carefully over the mine and see what emerges.