Postmodern Alchemical Art Manifesto 09
Iona Miller's SPIRITUAL ALCHEMY SERIES --
Post-postmodern Alchemical Art
KEYWORDS: Transmodernism, complexity, chaos theory, Hermetics, spiritual psychology, aesthetic arrest, holism, negentropy, critical thinking, action learning, perceptual embodiment, C.G. Jung, James Hillman, myth, archetypal psychology, imaginal psychology, Transpersonal psychology. "Nothing is possible without love, not even the processes of alchemy, for love puts one in a mood to risk everything and not to withhold elements.” --C.G. Jung
A Transmodern Approach to Alchemical Art
"Nothing is possible without love, not even the processes of alchemy, for love puts one in a mood to risk everything and not to withhold elements.” --C.G. Jung
By Iona Miller, ART MANIFESTO 2009
“Psyche cannot be totally different from matter, for how otherwise could it move matter? And matter cannot be alien to psyche, for how else could matter produce psyche? Psyche and matter exist in the same world, and each partakes of the other, otherwise any reciprocal action would be impossible. If research could only advance far enough, therefore, we should arrive at an ultimate agreement between physical and psychological concepts. Our present attempts may be bold, but I believe they are on the right lines.” --Carl Jung, AION
“To propose a psychology of Anima Mundi is to invite oneself to a relationship of intimacy with the soul of the world and its objects…From this point of view, the psychic reality of the world’s soul becomes available from the images. There is no way to separate our soul from the souls of others – and by “others” I mean people as well as everything that we can consider an environment. It is, thus no longer possible to work with the classical notion of individuation and its rhetoric of “my travel,” “my process,” “my journeys,” the blind frenetic pursuit of an inner Self, and to ignore the individuation of the soul of the world and its objects. The care of the soul does not necessarily mean introversion or denying the reality of the world, its substance and objects. There is no way to engage in soul-making if we keep ourselves attached exclusively to the Self, and exclude the world.”
--Marcus Quintaes on James Hillman’s Polemics in Archetypal Psychologies (Marlan, 2008)
The topic of ancient and medieval alchemy was, arguably, rescued from obscurity largely through the efforts of C. G. Jung and a few others. Jung spoke of soul as psyche, not in a religious or philosophical sense but as a heightened awareness of subjective realities, a domain of experience.
Image is a direct expression of soul. Jung gleaned psychological illumination from alchemy and other spiritual technologies. The Heart Sutra tells us that ultimately all form is void and void is form, expressing the luminous radiance of the natural mind. All form is emptyness and nondual emptyness is form. All impermanent material forms and conscious states share the same Source.
This is the shining One World (Unus Mundus), the holistic core of alchemical metaphysics which declared that light was the root of matter. And we are THAT. Similarly, physicist Wolfgang Pauli working with Jung, encouraged us to find "a neutral or unitarian language" applicable to both matter and the unconscious, to "overcome the wrong idea that psyche and matter are two things."
As exemplified in alchemy's prime directive, "Solve et Coagula," the raw material of self and world is deconstructed to facilitate emergent self-organization at a higher level. The new emerges from the dying husk of the old self-image. This is nature's way, as chaos theory has shown us. Nature is a self-sustaining dynamical balance of order and chaos.
Transmodernism follows postmodernism with an optimistic universalism. It reclaims esoterics from the past marrying it with activist visionary foresight. Its features include globalism, glocalism, ecological sustainability, relationship and family issues, self-actualization, spiritual psychology, social conscience and optimism. Some degree of voluntary simplicity follows from seeing nature as sacred. The alchemical perspective is not merely deconstructionist, but paradoxically regenerative -- cyclically regenerative, even negentropic. In this sense, alchemy is transmodern though it radically predates that philosophy.
Alchemy is a wisdom tradition. As modern alchemists we can build our lived understanding of alchemy with psychological insights as well as experimental work. The stagnation of the beginning yields to emergent self-actualization, signalled by a complex interactive correspondence system of Hermetic values not otherwise observable. Like the medieval artistae whose medium was the sacred art of alchemy, we pursue the philosophical gold to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary through service to the Living Light.
In this integral philosophy everything is contextual and values are relativized. Emergentism and complexity are cutting edge theoretical vehicles. What happens below (depth, darkness) reveals the significance of what happens above (consciousness, light). The unconscious can be disturbing and ennobling. With a radical perspective, each instant is pregnant with the raw paradoxical experience of the chaotic prima materia and the refined unmoving ultima materia of fundamental or primordial consciousness.
Alchemy explores the nature of matter-energy and consciousness. It is possibly the first historical example of self-initiation, self-help and self-care -- conscious self-organization of the human chaotic condition. Though following certain common guidelines, each alchemist's process is necessarily idiosyncratic. Cultural creatives are engaged just as much in the world as in personal and spiritual issues. In complexity science, entanglement precedes the emergence of order.
Solutions emerge from and through each individual practitioner in a self-empowering inner journey, much as in modern client-centered experiential therapies. Therapy and alchemy are both processes of continuing adult education: "lifelong learning, life wide learning and life deep learning" (Wildman). Alchemy expands the boundaries of self-imposed limits.
Visionary alchemists might be aptly characterized as activists, "Free Radicals." This proto-science has no priesthood nor hierarchy, relying heavily on intuitive thinking and direct inspiration. They communicate as peers, fellow experimentalists and colleagues in a non-hierarchical way through cryptic cipher texts with allegorical and analogical artwork. Alchemists do bootstrap on one another's efforts in this ultimately individual pursuit, that is necessarily subjective yet universal.The structure of our inquiry into the functional matrix is malleable. Soul is a pluralistic expression. We can, in fact, must look at it from many points of view and levels of experience from earthly to cosmic to hyperspace harmonics -- "As Above, So Below." Whether there is a point or purpose to life, alchemy is an organic way of amplifying awareness and meaning while giving value to life. You create it and the universe responds. You and the cosmos resonate as One, making psyche matter.
Alchemy describes, demonstrates and illustrates the participatory field as central to the conscious condition in nature. As alchemists we intentionally engage the participatory field of consciousness to perform the Opus, or Great Work. The concept of this interconnective field allows us to redefine consciousness consistent with the unpredictable values of quantum mechanics and chaos theory. The alchemical world is animated. Intentionally interacting with the experiential process allows us to transform consciousness.
The nature of life is chaotic. Jung said, "God is the name by which I designate all things which cross my willful path violently and recklessly, all things which upset my subjective views, plans and intentions and change the course of life for better or worse."
The brain can become more chaotic while solving problems. Neurons express self-organized criticality (SOC), neither ordered nor random but somewhere in between. Chaotic modulations are reined in by attractors (archetypes, psychic gravity wells). Critical points lead to phase transition. The edge of chaos is the point of emergence for new behaviors, enhanced capacities and transformed identity.
Chaos is the universal solvent (Miller). Human intention is about choices, self-reflection and the search for meaning. The edge of chaos, where critical systems adapt and evolve, is the most effective place to be. As more than a metaphor, it mirrors greater degrees of freedom and nonlinearity in systems far from equilibrium.
Critical thinking, (purposeful, reflective judgement about what to believe and do), helps us navigate through superstition, presumption, conjecture, confabulation, groupthink and psyops toward testable hypotheses and models of reality. Relevance is determined by heart, intuition and skilled, active observation of experiences, information, communication and argumentation.
Strange attractors are the center of gravity for critical phenomena and experiences, holding us in thrall for longer or shorter periods of time. The process doesn't have to make sense to the rational mind. Small and large-scale changes emerge and the practice of our art facilitates that, offering more potential for realization. Dramatic changes can come from seemingly insignificant events.
Alchemy's structure challenges us to remain at the evolutionary edge, mutable to the transformative process. Patterns are detectable in the process when you look closely enough. Alchemy's mystery is the reconciliation of opposites, refining arcs of ascent and descent. Amplification of small fluctuations turns up the heat or intensity of psychic processes.
Alchemy is a process of search and research, conducted by one who is simultaneously artist and artificer, who must engage to thrive and who fosters collective renewal. Integrating thinking, doing and being in ancient times was called Poiesis and in Medieval times ‘artificing’ and today Action Learning. An artificer bridges the gap between thinking and doing: someone who while being deeply and broadly technically skilled is reflexively orientated and who ethically and participatively explores the big picture and prioritises, chooses, designs and enacts forward wisely by creatively developing prototypes towards a world transformed. Such learning is always threefold – internal to the learner (integrity, values etc), external to the learner (ethics and how the world works), and bridging between the two (dexterity delivered content). (Wildman, 2004)
someone who while being deeply and broadly technically skilled is reflexively orientated and who ethically and participatively explores the big picture and prioritises, chooses, designs and enacts forward wisely by creatively developing prototypes towards a world transformed. Such learning is always threefold – internal to the learner (integrity, values etc), external to the learner (ethics and how the world works), and bridging between the two (dexterity delivered content). (Wildman, 2004)
There is theory and practice in science, and two applications in alchemy -- spiritual alchemy and experimental alchemy involving literal lab work. They have been called introverted and extroverted alchemy, when in fact each practice has aspects of both directional flows of energy. There is a complementary bit of yin in yang and vice versa.
Both modalities inspire self-expression in works of art. Spiritual alchemy is a theophanic metaphysics, revealing a sacred presence within its process. You can work either the spiritual or practical method separately or both mystical philosophy and transformational science in concert.
There is a third force in alchemy, beyond edgework and benchwork. The psychedelic magi contend that alchemical art depicts of homologues of the sacred mushroom experience (Heinrich) or the "red resin," cannabis (Bennett). This is a variant manifesting the alchemical experience that I am you and you are me that often extends to all scales of being and process throughout deep time.
Psychedelic states and cosmic consciousness do spontaneously emerge in the process (Gowan), with or without magico-medicinal plant or chemical allies, because there is a reciprocal phase lock between psychic state and body chemistry. The body produces its own endogenous psychedelics (Strassman) and a host of neurotransmitters that modulate pleasure and pain (Pert) as well as the balance of autonomic and voluntary nervous systems (Fischer).
Paradoxically, spiritual and experimental alchemists may dispute one another's approaches. But as in physics, theoreticians and experimentalists can respectfully co-exist benefitting by one another's insights and proofs. Lab work facilitates a mercurial element of surprise and synchronicity, perturbing our "normal" state -- an enculturated trance.
Alchemy has a rhythm, a flux, a pulse all its own and it can change us. Like mystics of all paths who have gone before, we make the experiment on ourselves. Beyond the impasse of life and death, our potential exceeds what our conscious awareness alone could ever make of us.
Jungian, Archetypal, Imaginal and Transpersonal psychology deal clearly in contemporary language with the same process and mystical philosophy we find in alchemy. Archetypal or Imaginal psychology is a relativistic, polytheistic orientation rather than monotheistic. That is they aim beyond the Self toward collective manifestations such as sustainability and ecosophy.
Depth psycholgies and alchemy recognize multiple points of view in the latent infinity of psyche. To be a psychologist, one must learn the dynamics of psyche. To be an alchemist also requires learning the language of alchemy, becoming conversant in its terms and operations. This arcane language is not archaic as much as highly technical in its specifications. But these are concepts and metaphors until they are grounded with practice, planted in the earth (coagulatio). Craft is of utmost importance and form is an element of craft. Vision and craft are integrated and heightened in this synthetic philosophy.
There is an autonomous domain of soul. Soul based therapies claim imagination and images as primary concerns, describing a nonlinear dynamic process of being-in-anima. Archetypes are self-similar, acting like cyclic and strange attractors of the soul field. Their fractal-like reiterations perturb us at every functional level of being. They are the focal points of psyche held in subtle webs of entangled interaction. We return to our primordial essence. This is the gold in the heart of matter.
Alchemy appeals to those who wish to pro-actively go beyond conventional boundaries, without being dogmatic, self-defeating or self-destructive. Cultivating relationships with archetypes make us eccentric and therefore individualistic. Madness is a relative term that also means a high degree of intellectual independence. Alchemy also represents a rebirth of artistic responsbility, honoring craft, proficiency and individual initiative. The truly creative are always reinventing themselves and can not help but follow their passion and uniqueness.
Meaning is not dead as it seems in the wasteland of the nigredo or mortificatio. That is just the necessary stage for beginning. Loss of soul is also a loss of words to express experience. Alchemy provides fresh words, to form bigger stories. Psychological life has a metaphoric and phenomenological character expressed in images. All forms are equal and return to the void. In re-enchantment, meaning returns to linguistics, poetry, art, creation and life. Archetypal images impact us in multidimensional ways.
In Vol. 9 of his CW, Jung said, "That people should succumb to these eternal images is entirely normal, in fact it is what these images are for. They are meant to attract, to fascinate and to overpower. They are created out of the primal stuff of revelation." We learn as much from our experimental failures as successes. That is how we find our creative edge.
As we move within the transformative elements of alchemy we radically switch perspectives. By seeing through and mirroring the fractal elements of alchemy we learn to recognize the nigredo, the albedo, the rubedo and coniunctio when they arise. We get a feel for the Solar and Lunar, the Mercurial, the Venusian, Martian and Saturnian energies and what feelings and images come with them. We see through the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual synchronicities the outer world presents that mirror our inner lives. The uncanny and extraordinary becomes familiar, more expected than not.
There are ancient elements at work in our psychic lives. Astrological, kabbalistic, metallurgical and even chemical elements are metaphorical, archetypal, symbolic forces operating in a holistic system. Imaginal psychology draws on the sacred potentials of alchemy, spiritual traditions, somatic practices, creative arts, mythology, indigenous wisdom, humor, deep ecology, literary and poetic imagination. The opus of soul work includes mystical philosophy, cultural history, and social critique.
Art conveys significance. More than academic commentary, alchemy is an applied art of affinities, a revelatory 'psience' with self (body-spirit) as laboratory. The aim of psychophysical renovation is regeneration of nature and restoration of youth. Healing, rejuvination and longevity are attributed to the Elixir, the liquid form of the Philosopher's Stone. The creative force of the divine is 'living water.' We look at the world with fresh eyes and rediscover it.
Traditional drugs have been used by shamans since pre-historic times for healing and entering altered states of consciousness. Persian, Indian and European examples are well-documented. Currently, the most popular is the South American psychedelic plant combination ayahuasca, which has been called an "elixir of the soul." They say it can take you to heaven or your own personal hell. Containing DMT and purgatives, it simulates a near-death experience followed by deep snse of renewal. Confronting one's death is an initiatory ordeal that increases appreciation of life.
The body's energies are used for transformation. Psyche is essentially related to soma because it is rooted in organic structure. The true elixir of illumination is the body's own DMT, the spirit molecule, stimulated from the pineal gland by meditation (Miller, Soma Pinoline). But the ultimate alchemical regeneration is a marriage of heaven and earth that builds a vehicle for consciousness after death -- the incorruptible Diamond Body.
The nature of embodiment is biophotonic light. This lightbody embodies the highest aspirations and the attainment of immortality. Withdrawn from becoming, the natural mind abides unmoved in the radiance of primordial awareness. We can call this transubstantiation Homo Lumen. (Miller, Photonic Human)
Image is a direct expression of soul. Alchemical images articulate a different reality of soul, that is neither mind nor matter -- imaginative consciousness. The being of nature is Anima Mundi, the soul of the world. Mind and heart, sensuality and aesthetics flow from this root of psyche as imagination -- the primary element and mode of experience. Psyche continuously creates and pours forth emergent images that matter. Body is the physical form of spirit, the somatic source of imagery that helps us grow spiritually and creatively.
Mythic events burst through the status quo. Myth forces a certain "truth." We cannot escape myth. Myth reveals the character of reality yet it is not of this realm. Myth must be uncovered. It is a primal active force in the world and the missing dimension in the dynamic interplay of politics. Myth is a common unifying principle. Myth permeates our understanding of our past, present and potential.
Myth is a conceptual schemata embodying core metaphysical concepts and moral wisdom. Myths do cultural work. All societies live by myths. In myth-building any words or symbols can be modified from their original meanings to suit their new roles in a matrix of varied forms. The material world has a mythic nature with its dangers and ambiguous promise. Myth creates the vision of a future perfect world. We are largely unconscious of mythic operation and affects.
Thus, alchemy, the art of understanding nature and our own nature, is a way to mirror and care for the soul with chemical, psychophysical, mythical, and cosmological aspects. Soul as center of our inquiry and practice speaks to us meaningfully through the imagery of alchemy, the wisdom of the heart, through which we remember our naked connection to the cycles of nature and rhythms of the Earth. The universal couple is the ever-passionate Alchemist and seductive Soror Mystica, Anima Mundi revealing herself. Image is the esoteric lover, the intimate other that offers us healing and gives us meaning.
The Alchemical Field
Alchemy is a poetic process of active imagination in which we can act and suffer in a creative way. Discovery excites us. Aesthetic response is an awakening that drives us. To pursue alchemy, we must love it, utterly. Vulnerability opens us to breakthrough that fosters commitment. We surrender our hearts to the creative process that moves us into liberation. We respond to the impetus to realize our full potential. Thus, alchemy is an aesthetic education that leads us beyond normalcy into our gifts and talents. As such, it is a compassionate act of self-care.
Reality is in-formed by soul's metaphorical weave of mythical narrative. Soul (anima) is an active intelligence that forms or plots our fates. Being-in-Anima (esse in anima) is to be ensouled. Soma Sophia, the Body of Wisdom is inherent dwelling within the body of Anima Mundi.
Psyche is immersed in imagination, metaphor, poetry and myth, including scientific and spiritual technologies. Fantasy deliteralizes the illusory concreteness of matter. Images and fantasy are the carriers of meaning. The language of alchemy provides archetypes for the world as it is phenomenologically constructed. Inspiration replenishes the world, the wasteland of the nigredo.
Alchemy is a Way of being in soul with its own common language that anchors the narrative of each alchemist's life. We are deepened through the instruction of these inherited cultural symbols. Alchemy is a language of the soul, a matrix of transformation that coordinates our efforts. It allows us to play with ideas about the nature of reality and our own spiritual and practical nature. Alchemy configures our soul, aligning us with a deeper life. The identity of our story is welded to the identity of our character.
There is a unity of existence underlying psyche and matter, mind and body. We live life in terms of our story. We construct a reality accessible only through that alchemical language of earthiness and the transcendental, the mundane and the intangible. Alchemical metaphors appear spontaneously in the psyches of all individuals, largely unnoticed. But alchemy naturally includes work with dark matter and energy. It is this darkness that makes it the occult pursuit of Light.
We can consciously choose to notice and see through alchemical metaphors forming an intentionality. Do we choose alchemy or does it somehow choose us? Some are moved toward alchemy as something to live in and through, a way for soul to find itself in life, to find the multidimensionality of the "one that is many." A momentary insight can capture a lifetime of experiences.
Pondering the burning questions of life leads to self expression that functions as a reciprocal feedback loop between the sacred and profane. We penetrate the Mystery even as the dynamic impulse penetrates us. This inspiration is why we make art and explore our spirituality. Intentionality is contemplative focus (meditatio) which opens an inner dialogue with the cosmos.
Our works lead toward bliss when they are life-changing. We change the context of our lives. Raising the alchemical heat increases the intensity of being. It enables us to drill a hole to the very center of ourselves, following the injunction VITRIOL: Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem. ("Visit the Interior Parts of the Earth; By Rectification Thou Shalt Find the Hidden Stone.") This is the true meta-syn, the elixir of life.
Choosing alchemy as an artful lifestyle transmutes chance into fate. We live life in terms of our alchemical story which makes meaning possible. Literal events become metaphorical enactments, deepening events into meaningful experiences with poetic suggestion. Alchemy is a cosmological myth ("As Above, So Below") that reunites us with the sacred, with the divine. We are involved with the world in a new way, no longer inhibited by reductionistic culture. The Philosopher's Stone is a non-dual state of consciousness.
Jung felt that art is a healing response to collective cultural norms. The alchemical art connects the individual psyche to esoteric history and underground currents of occulture. Alchemy's ideas are tools that help us animate the literal and superficial by moving us immediately beyond literal objectivities into the mythic perspective of ambiguity, multiplicity and inherent meaning. The alchemical art lies in inducing the synchronistic unification of psyche and matter as a numinous reality. It is a resurrection of spirit in the realm of matter that raises consciousness by reframing our personal history.
Clarity is artistic discovery of the universal. There is enchantment in the quality of wholeness. There is beauty in the rhythms of nature and our nature. Aesthetic response is an essential emotional aspect of alchemy that lends flow and harmony to the process of balance, rhythm and synthesis of immediate perception. That flow is lyrical, epic and dramatic. Aesthetic signification is one thing, but the deep emotional impact of aesthetic arrest -- being suspended for a thrilling radiant moment in the eternal -- stops us in our tracks in a moment of realization.
We dissolve in the mysterious ground of being, the sublime wellspring of creativity. The mind goes still as primal awareness expands into wholeness. Something without physical form shines forth from the hidden world in that very moment. These luminous experiences, true works of art, drive us onward in the Quest. We are struck with divine inspiration and the passion to see it through to completion. Sensuous cognition of beauty is a revelation, an astonishment that captivates our rapt attention.
Aesthetic arrest blows apart the illusory differences between the sacred and the profane. We are inspired in the a-ha moment, utterly dissolved in the momentary ego-death of its solutio that tears asunder illusory nature. This aesthetic experience is an act of surrender that is an epiphany. It makes us gasp for air and sparks a cascade of pleasure.
We become a part of the truth we seek at the paradox of participation. The alchemist lives at this paradox. The greening of the wasteland restores artistic expression. Voegelin calls each participant in therapeutic process and practice a simultaneous part and whole of a reality of consciousness like a marriage, polity, or cosmos. Alchemy speaks of the Royal Marriage, or paradoxical cosmic conjunction (coniunctio) of opposites.
We are directly connected to beauty and wholeness. We know what it means to exist rooted in the mysterious creative ground of being. As artists we are mythmakers, dreaming the alchemical dream onward. Myth is transparent to transcendent process in the Now-Here. In sublimatio we reach escape velocity. In aesthetic arrest, the phenomenal field disappears as we come to our own Zero Point. Any artistic expression produced by this personal experience is likely to lead others to their own, as the alchemists have led us with their secret fire.
Soul is made by narrating events in terms of myth, the metaphoric and symbolic dimensions of our experience. Poetics brings the archetypal into participation with the mundane by tending the currents of life. The alchemist in us is an imaginative variation of our mundane character through which some of us come to recognize our life story. Our enlivened art speaks from and to our depths. Alchemy is a direct way of knowing -- experience-based knowledge -- a gnosis.
Analogical Artwork Consciousness is a dynamic field that has the dual aspect of primordial process and appearance. Process is conscious dynamic energy. Process and perception lead to an understanding of appearance. Our consciousness oscillates at the fundamental level between the inherent drive for change and our attempt to maintain identity and stability. We are creative beings and that creativity is an emergent process from cradle to grave. We can apply a similar strategy to our spirituality, drawing on the best of what the past offers while keeping our practice and service contemporary and relevant. Our lives become multidimensional artful expressions without frames, embodied in living Light. Process-oriented spirituality is eclectic and intensely personal. The connection we have with the inspirational Source that nourishes creative life is the same source that sustains our spirits and funds our compassion. It is a deep well from which we can drink at will, the abundant lifesprings of our essential being. There is no artificial distinction between the pursuit of knowledge and self-knowledge and aesthetics. Beauty is an affair of the heart but speaks to our whole being. The therapeutic art is designed to elicit a full response: sensuous, intellectual, and emotional, not separated but interfused. It has an air of intimacy, of immediacy. The fullness of presentation matches the fullness of response--yielding a sense of lived experience--personal experience. Like art, experiential therapy is inherently humanistic--concerned with human feelings and values. It helps us embody those values, and the nature of beauty. Art is the explication of the transformative process. Through art, common experience is transformed to archetypal, timeless experience. Art is nature transformed. Art shapes our perception of things outside ourselves, and embodies the workings of inner life.
Art exalts the senses, passions and mind. Higher art must be intensely personal while being universal and universally accessible. It must show refined knowledge, understanding and respect for the art that has come before to enrich those around us. Much the same can be said for an artfully and heartfully lived life.
Beauty is an emotional value which affects our volitional and appreciative nature. It is not inherent in any thing, but is our own pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing or event. It is neither intrinsic nor objectified. It is the first-hand experience of a state of consciousness. It may not be in the eye only, but beauty is in the beholder. Yet the beholder doesn't stand on the outside looking in, but becomes the object of contemplation. When the focus of contemplation is the self, a complex feedback loop manifests of self contemplating self manifesting self, contemplating self.
Consciousness is a dynamic field that has the dual aspect of primordial process and appearance. Process is conscious dynamic energy. Process and perception lead to an understanding of appearance. Our consciousness oscillates at the fundamental level between the inherent drive for change and our attempt to maintain identity and stability. We are creative beings and that creativity is an emergent process from cradle to grave. We can apply a similar strategy to our spirituality, drawing on the best of what the past offers while keeping our practice and service contemporary and relevant. Our lives become multidimensional artful expressions without frames, embodied in living Light. Process-oriented spirituality is eclectic and intensely personal. The connection we have with the inspirational Source that nourishes creative life is the same source that sustains our spirits and funds our compassion. It is a deep well from which we can drink at will, the abundant lifesprings of our essential being. There is no artificial distinction between the pursuit of knowledge and self-knowledge and aesthetics. Beauty is an affair of the heart but speaks to our whole being. The therapeutic art is designed to elicit a full response: sensuous, intellectual, and emotional, not separated but interfused. It has an air of intimacy, of immediacy. The fullness of presentation matches the fullness of response--yielding a sense of lived experience--personal experience. Like art, experiential therapy is inherently humanistic--concerned with human feelings and values. It helps us embody those values, and the nature of beauty. Art is the explication of the transformative process. Through art, common experience is transformed to archetypal, timeless experience. Art is nature transformed. Art shapes our perception of things outside ourselves, and embodies the workings of inner life.
We can apply a similar strategy to our spirituality, drawing on the best of what the past offers while keeping our practice and service contemporary and relevant. Our lives become multidimensional artful expressions without frames, embodied in living Light. Process-oriented spirituality is eclectic and intensely personal.
The connection we have with the inspirational Source that nourishes creative life is the same source that sustains our spirits and funds our compassion. It is a deep well from which we can drink at will, the abundant lifesprings of our essential being. There is no artificial distinction between the pursuit of knowledge and self-knowledge and aesthetics. Beauty is an affair of the heart but speaks to our whole being.
The therapeutic art is designed to elicit a full response: sensuous, intellectual, and emotional, not separated but interfused. It has an air of intimacy, of immediacy. The fullness of presentation matches the fullness of response--yielding a sense of lived experience--personal experience. Like art, experiential therapy is inherently humanistic--concerned with human feelings and values. It helps us embody those values, and the nature of beauty.
Art is the explication of the transformative process. Through art, common experience is transformed to archetypal, timeless experience. Art is nature transformed. Art shapes our perception of things outside ourselves, and embodies the workings of inner life.
The dynamic union of chaos and order is symbolic of our human process of transformation: old outworn forms break down (ego death), and that chaos is fertile ground for creative rebirth, rejuvenation. This Royal Wedding means nothing less than finding the lost soul--the alienated part of oneself which we normally call "Not-I." Soul retrieval is healing.
Jung was enamored with alchemy -- the spiritual impulse, hidden wisdom and experiential matrix he found there. Jung was self-initiated by his own mercurial occult spirit. Occult practice was at the core of Jug's theory, clinical practice and inner experience. By revitalizing alchemy he participated in its mysteries. Occult ideas were circulating widely among Central European intellectuals before World War II and they captured Jung's imagination.
Following an influential dream, Jung collected an entire library of alchemical works. He compiled alchemy’s universal truths in several of his works including Psychology and Alchemy, Alchemical Studies, Mysterium Coniunctionis, The Secret of the Golden Flower, Aion, and Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious.
Jung codified the encrypted language of alchemy in terms of our human transformation process, including irrational consciousness. Yet, Jung’s is not the only interpretation of those elements, including the Quest and the Great Work. While initially we might learn about symbols, we have to learn how to work with them, to work within them since they contain us, rather than being contained within ourselves. The alchemist is a living symbol, an ensouled personification of the healing power of the Philosopher's Stone.
Jung’s second-generation followers adhered fairly strictly to his monist view of alchemy. Highlights of this period include now classic works by Marie-Louse von Franz and Edward Edinger. Edinger gave us Ego and Archetype plus Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy. The works of von Franz include Alchemical Active Imagination, Projection and Recollection in Jungian Psychology, Number and Time, and Alchemy; An Introduction to the Symbolism and its Psychology, to name but a few.
Other Jungian contributors include Henry Corbin with Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, on Arabic alchemy, M. Esther Harding's Psychic Energy, Robert Grinnell's Alchemy in a Modern Woman, and Edward Whitmont's Psyche and Substance. Another Jungian contribution is Mircea Eliade's The Forge & the Crucible. Their work was referenced and paralleled by contemporary alchemy scholars like Frater Albertus, Stanislas Klossowski De Rola, Richard Grossinger, David Fidler, Adam McLean and other modern commentators.
Revisioning the Psyche
Moving beyond Jung's popularized but static definitions, 3rd generation psychotherapeutic practitioners were far more innovative than preservationist. They overthrew Jung's old order with new hermeneutic understanding beyond the progressive, heroic Self, which is a concept not an image. In this they were true to the vital and reflective Mercurial Spirit.
Revisioning the whole mindscape, James Hillman led a revolt against the ossified orthodoxy of Jungianism that came to be called Archetypal Psychology and later Imaginal Psychology. It freed the psyche from what had become a conservative fundamentalism with a party line and right and wrong interpretations. It brought back living process and moved interest out of the containment of the cloistered therapy room into the living, breathing World-at-Large by reframing the psyche and deliteralizing concrete reality.
Once a person has focused intention a break with the form of ritual can lead right to its essence. A similar process is happening in the practice of alchemy, which has come to include more than scholar/practitioners and laboratory experimentalists. Globally, new subcultures are engaging in spagyrics, fire circles, artistic metallurgy, social networks, art shows and performance as well as other volatile tranformative practices, which have escaped the retort into the world. Alchemists no longer have to wok in isolation. But alchemy is no psycho-spiritual franchise, but a deeply individual process.
Alchemy's process-oriented spirituality has come down to earth. As depth psychology has drawn from the spring of alchemy, so too can we gain the wisdom of our art from psychological practice. Their common language allows us to break free of conventional constraints on our thought, experience and behaviors to enter the mythic dimension in new expressive ways.
We do so as soon as we recognize the poetic element behind identifying ourselves as alchemists and what that means in the narrative of our life stories. Alchemy is the kind of language we employ describing the intimate engagement between psyche and matter. It is the original mindbody medicine.
The Way of Alchemy
Alchemy is not just a 17th century sacred cow, embodied only in hoary texts, enigmatic laboratory procedures, and static pictures. Soul is made in the fractal reiteration of the deepening of experience – all experience – which molds character (narrative identity) with mythologizing. Alchemy is one of these dynamic means of moving beyond deconstruction into soul-making – a phenomenological approach.
Alchemy is a creative encounter with chaos and a struggle to understand the nature of healing. Chaos is the Universal Solvent. Healing springs from deep within. All apparent structure is hidden in chaos, and in chaos there are hidden forms. As we deconstruct our fictional selves, we find that deep within there is a primordial consciousness of pure Being. Connection with this wellspring is the Source of life and creativity. Chaos is the crucible of creation. Through alchemy, we move deeper into the images, and then become them, rather than merely interacting with them.
Alchemy, like therapy, is a practical Way of making life into a flowing story, and that story is necessarily illustrated to convey what cannot be said in words, to include what happens in the gaps in consciousness. The alchemy of by-gone centuries is as inappropriate today as obsolete science. Naturally, there is value there but we don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of its extant literature to apply its wisdom and gain its treasure.
Post-postmodern alchemy has broken the retort and escaped into the world at large, into bigger stories. We craft a personal narrative by recognizing and reiterating mythic claims, metaphorical enactments through reflective speculation, experimentation, projection, meditation, dream, image and fantasy. Reflection deepens into experience and expression through artful means of what never happens but always is.
Soul is an active intelligence because myth leads to practical moves. Soul is made through suffering the process and by taking up myth as a poetic perspective – a dramatic complexity of multiple metaphorical and symbolic dimensions of experience. In this sense, alchemy cannot be separated from life. The narration is one of life’s possibilities, of our alternative selves as realizable potential, including discordant elements, into meaningful story lived in and through the alchemical process.
If we are truly Mercurial, we oscillate in our thoughts, are enigmatic in our language, inconsistent with ideas, and resistant to any fixed definitions or propositions. Perhaps only archetypal imagination serves this mercurial nature. It is explored and embodied best through artistic expression of archetypal images, making the universal particular and moving archaic symbolism into the immediate present, rather than relying exclusively on stale retrievals and intellectual commentary.
What soul does is make fantasy images. Alchemy is a psychological metaphysics, a worldview that takes the soul further into mythopoiesis, producing images, events, and phenomena. Analysis and discourse (deductive and inductive reasoning) merely turns the libido into a narcissistic reflection of itself, when it could be embodied or manifested, even beyond self-evident intuition.
Soul-making approximates what it means to be “in soul,” esse in anima, immersed in both an internal and external process of transmutation. It is the process of making psyche matter, of making the World Soul – the Anima Mundi – through image, phenomena and pathologizing. It is not limited to so-called spiritual matters, but spiritualizes the whole sociopolitical field of human endeavors so that it all “matters.”
Imagination is stimulated by mythical fiction, which generates mythological imagination and speculative freedom of the soul. Breaking our containment in the ancient practices through artful means releases libido into the world, into the drive, which loves the world, even into erotic desire for anima mundi.
There is no more important aspect than brain chemistry for alchemy. Meditation and contemplation are a crucial part of the attention-focusing alchemical process. We can meditate with or without an object of contemplation, freeing our minds from its own content to enjoy the natural mind. We "reboot" ourselves from this primordial awareness, the Source and Zero-Point of consciousness.
Current research in meditation and neurotheology has shown tangible psychophysical benefits from meditation. Neurotheology is the biological basis of spirituality (Miller, 2008). Both alpha and theta brainwaves facilitate healing and benefit higher-order cognitive functions. When we phase lock at these frequencies, we also phase-lock with the resonant frequencies of the Earth (Shumann's Resonances, Miller, 2004).
The latest research shows significantly larger grey matter volumes in the right frontal cortex, right thalamus, left interior temporal gyrus and right hippocampus of meditators. Emotional regulation and response control improve with mindful behavior. Brain resonance CDs (binaural beat technology) can facilitate alpha and theta by driving the brain toward cascades of this harmonious response, removing any doubt of achieving the desired conditions.
Once you know the brain neurology and the resonant nature of the mindbody connection, you can make up your own mind about your mystical or anomalous experiences. It is our evolutionary legacy; we are the product of our environment and precisely tuned to it. The holistic nature of the body reflects the Nature of the Cosmos; our nature is not separate from Nature. There is great value in discipline, practice, and service which exercises the full spectrum of our human potential.
In creativity and meditation we seek in a fully conscious way, willfully cooperating and facilitating the process not only of connecting with God, but experiencing oneself in the process of “becoming” god. The ego no longer perceives itself as a separate expression of consciousness, but as the same essence as All.
Of course, we can never fully complete that process. No one can fully embody God, but we can move toward it. The succession of conscious states is toward higher integration, not toward lower dissociation. The process of integration in growth toward positive values has the complementary virtues of being obvious in fact and transcendental in implications. It means we evolve from reactive creatures into an integrated part of the spiritual dimension.
The task of meditation is essentially letting the body fall as deeply asleep as possible while the mind remains focused. In fact, if it were not for the opposite function’s presence, even in the mystical state, we would fall asleep. The REM or dream state is similar: there is extreme cerebral excitation, even though muscular activity is inhibited. Hemispheric synchronization producing long, slow alpha and theta brainwaves with high amplitude is another factor. The deeper the meditation, the slower and stronger the waves.
The energy “rush” of meditation comes when either the arousal or quiescent state “spills over” into stimulating its complementary system. When both parts of the autonomic nervous system go online simultaneously, the limbic system goes wild with emotion, absorption and oceanic bliss. This is reflected in the gender based, male-female imagery of the kundalini serpent power and the yin and yang of the Tao.
When both systems go into maximal discharge, this neurochemical flux is subjectively perceived as Absolute Unity of Being, boundlessness, timelessness, and sacredness. Our relationship to humans, earth, and cosmos is one of a relationship to the Other. Our first formative influence is the experience of empathy. And empathy needs a face. If we find that face in our personal experience of God, who shall say nay? Beyond that lies only the yawning infinity of the Void.
Meditation may modulate pineal activity, eliciting a standing wave through resonance effects that affects other brain centers with both chemical and electromagnetic coordination. Resonance can be induced in the pineal using electric, magnetic, or sound energy. Such harmonization resynchronizes both hemispheres of the brain. This may result in a chain of synergetic activity resulting in the production and release of naturally-produced hallucinogenic compounds.
Neurotransmitters bridge the mindbody gap. They are the chemicals which account for the transmission of signals from one neuron to the next across synapses. They can motivate or sedate, excite or calm us. Some brain chemicals are part of the key to our spirituality. Brain function is implicated in openness to spiritual experience from spiritual acceptance to the supernatural. An understanding of neurological processes helps you evaluate your subjective experiences.
Embodying the Vision
Alchemy cannot be a closed system of static dogmatic thoughts. It is a way of reimagining and creating metaphors from different points of view or narratives that open the field of infinite meanings. Each reiteration creates new networks, new meaning, new insights, embodiments, metamorphosis and transformation.
Participating in this process means mythologizing our own chaotic character, even pathologizing. Depth psychology tells us if we don't let in the Trickster and other gods, they can become physical or mental diseases. Yet if we become ill, we should not blame ourselves with "New Age guilt."
It is a truism in therapy that art expression clarifies and releases emotional flow. The classical alchemists nearly always illustrated their works, making universal pictures with themselves as point of reference. Alchemy would be a dry discourse without its images, without the discipline of images that leads to flow, to solutio.
Alchemy begins and ends in the quest for eternal life. It is a spiritual technology of rebirth using natural methods that in their effect transcend nature by amplifying that which is immortal within us. It does not exist in nature but must be prepared by Art. Art is a form of manifesting, making and objectifying the world - spiritual physics.
Artists and mystics are aware of their own internal space and thus able to enter it, playing the mindbody like a musical instrument. Looking inside, they see the true nature of reality and can express that literally and symbolically. We all possess the creative potential. All creative acts are a marriage of spirit and matter, reaching down into the body as the source of our essential being and becoming.
Today, we might describe this resonance as accessing energy that regenerates the mindbody. Healing is an aspect of creativity; nature is within and without us. The Magus does not dominate reality but develops embodied psychophysical equilibrium, clarity, wisdom and compassion.
Creative work originates in the body and is projected out into the world. The projections are then internalized into awareness. The bodymind of the artist is an alchemical vessel containing the creative flux during the process of transformation. Awareness and consciousness form a continuous alchemical movement. The creative gold is generated and embodied in the alembic of the mindbody.
The mindbody is the same substance as the Cosmos and contains and reveals its mysteries. Meditation masters speak of an inner Light that pervades the physical and energy bodies. Now science investigates it as biophotons. Through quantum physics we can watch that matter/energy/information devolve back into the unstructured void from which potential emanates.
Mystics have often equated this pervasive Light/Sound with primordial Consciousness and the source of life as well as matter. Quantum bioholography shows the DNA literally produces coherent light, which transduces to sound that directs the formative processes of life. Radiant energy is radiant energy. Whether we look outside into our environment or inside into ourselves we find primordial Light.
Alchemy reduces all to the first state, the ground state of being - original experience that is timeless, infinite. The classical Void, the quantum vacuum is a carrier of information. The energy body or the field body entangles us with the negentropic potential of the zero-point field. Radiant light literally emerges from this mystic void. Primordial structuring processes are common to both psyche and matter, working in the gap or empty interval between intention and action.
So, alchemy refines the way the mindbody generates and processes inherent light as medicine. It refines the aspirant's ability for tapping and amplifying Medicine Light. This primordial state is the luminous ground of our being, hidden deep in the heart of things.
All other goals are subordinate to this prime directive which includes meditative techniques for continuing consciousness after death. This Philosopher's Stone is also the Universal Medicine, the regenerative Elixir of Life. The greatest mystery is the LIFE IN DEATH: we don't die but continue in transcendent form.
This is the virtual secret of man and nature. The human body is the athenor that contains the fire and the First and Last Matter which are "One" with the vessel of transformation. The spiritual food of immortality signifies the ability of the ego to assimilate the previously unconscious aspects of the Self. This is the elixir of youth that creates the immortal body, equivalent to the Philosopher's Stone.
“It was a mineral substance, dense and opaque; it was melted and became transparent glass and then became much finer glass. And then this later had been subject for the first time to fusion and projection of the white Elixir, it became incandescent crystal. It was fused a second time and the Elixir was projected on it; it became diamond. Place it on the anvil, strike it with a hammer, it will dent the anvil and the hammer but it will not break.
Strike it with a piece of lead and it will break into cubiform fragments. That is the true sign that it really is diamond, but if it has become diamond it is also a sign that the diamond was hidden int he essential depths of the mineral substance, because, in fact, the composition of the later is the result of two well-known principles, mercury and sulphur, according to what is established in physics.
And this diamond, separated from the crystal, this crystal separated from the glass, this glass separated from this mineral opacity, is homologous to the ‘Resurrection Body’ of the faithful believer in the Paradise of the Future Aeon (that is o say jism B, the essential archetypal body, the corpus supra coeleste, the ‘diamond body’)”--Shaikh Ahmad Ahsa’i (d. 1241/1826) (excerpt from Article IX, Henry Corbin’s Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth)
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©2009 Iona Miller is a nonfiction writer for the academic and popular press, hypnotherapist (ACHE) and multimedia artist. She is a participant, not just commentator. Her conspirituality work is an omni-sensory fusion of intelligence, science-art, new physics and emergent paradigm shift, melding many social issues into a new view of society. She is interested in the effects of doctrines from religion, science, psychology, and the arts. Website: http://ionamiller.iwarp.com