Edited Extracts from a lovely article found here ~ http://www.awakeninthedream.com/wordpress/the-sacred-art-of-alchemy/
“I had very soon seen that analytical psychology coincided in a most curious way with alchemy. The experiences of the alchemists, were, in a sense, my experiences, and their world was my world. This was, of course, a momentous discovery. I had stumbled upon the historical counterpart of my psychology of the unconscious.”
Mountain of the Adepts
“The alchemical operations were real, only this reality was not physical but psychological. Alchemy represents the projection of a drama both cosmic and spiritual in laboratory terms. The opus magnum [“great work”] had two aims: the rescue of the human soul, and the salvation of the cosmos.” ~Jung
The “famous secret,” and the basis of the alchemical opus is the unique prima materia, which is the chaos and raw material out of which the refined substance or “gold” is produced. To the alchemists, there was a spirit hidden in the darkness of the prima materia, a divine spark buried in the darkness of matter.
Symbolically speaking, the enigmatic prima materia represents the unknown substance within us that carries the projections of the unconscious.
he prima materia in its lead-like aspect contains the spirit of depression, a downward movement into the depths of our being which is felt as melancholia, and which corresponds to the encounter with the shadow in psychology. Just like a dream compensates a one-sidedness, when we are unconsciously inflated, be it personally or collectively, the prima materia constellates a circumstance that will shock and awe us into humility so as to puncture our spell.
”The thing which we think the least of, that part of ourselves which we repress perhaps the most, or which we despise, is just the part which contains the mystery.” ~ Jung
It is an archetypal experience that the highest value – what Jung calls the Self, and others call “The Messiah” – unless recognized for its divinity, is typically contracted against and reacted to with scorn, revulsion, contempt, and disgust. An ancient alchemical text expresses this idea when it says, “Christ had no form nor comeliness, was the vilest of all men, full of griefs and sickness, and so despised that men even hid their faces from him, and he was esteemed as nothing.”
The prima materia is an “increatum,” an “uncreated,” autonomous, self-generating, spirit-like entity which is the root of itself and rooted in itself and is dependent on nothing. Jung tells us, “It is a characteristic of the arcane [esoteric, secret] substance to have ‘everything it needs;’ it is a fully autonomous being, like the dragon [uroboros] that begets, reproduces, slays and devours itself…a being without beginning or end, and in need of ‘no second.’ Such a thing can by definition only be God himself.” Speaking of the ineffable prima materia, an alchemical text says, “Thus the supreme artist [i.e., God] has prepared a great uncreated mystery.” The ungraspable prima materia is considered to be the virginal mother which gives birth to the lapis.
The unconscious is revealing itself through its very projections onto the world, which is to say that the unconscious is synchronistically revealing itself through our experience of life itself. The unconscious is its own self-revelation. All we need to do is to recognize what is being revealed.
To the extent we are asleep, we are reacting to our own projections as if they objectively exist in concretized form outside of ourselves. Alchemy is an inspired, visionary art form that works with the projective tendencies of our mind in order to help us dis-spell, consciously see through and liberate our projections.
The alchemists were having a deepening experience of God which included both light and dark, good and evil, an experience which was a projection of a deep process of integration that the alchemists must have been going through within themselves.
“The individual is confronted with the abysmal contradictions of human nature, and this confrontation in turn leads to the possibility of a direct experience of light and darkness, of Christ and the devil.” ~ Jung
There is an alchemical saying “solve et coagula,” dissolve and coagulate (which correspond to the alchemical operations “solutio” and “coagulatio”). The alchemists were dissolving and regenerating elements of their experience and their identity both over time, as well as in each and every moment, so as to potentially distill, re-constitute and create something new within themselves. De-solidifying, de-literalizing and de-constructing their experience in each moment empowered the alchemists to actively participate in their own transformation and evolution.
To the alchemists, creating the philosophers’ stone was analogous to waking up to the dreamlike nature of the universe. Becoming lucid in the waking dream is seen as a reflection of God’s ongoing creation of and incarnation into the world.
Recognizing the co-respondence between the microcosm and the macrocosm, between the inner and outer is the birth of “symbolic awareness,” which is to recognize that this universe is not speaking literally but, like a dream, is speaking to us symbolically. This is the meaning of the famous alchemical maxim, “As above, so below.” What is happening in the world is a symbolic reflection of what is happening inside of ourselves.
From the alchemical perspective, as Jung clarifies, “…man takes upon himself the duty of carrying out the redeeming opus, and attributes the state of suffering and consequent need of redemption to the anima mundi [world soul] imprisoned in matter.” Alchemically speaking, it is the arcane substance, the true man, the Self, which suffers, is tortured, transformed and rises again. This realization can help us re-contextualize and reframe our experience of suffering. Instead of personally identifying with our suffering in a way that is limiting, problematic and reinforces it, we can recognize that the origin of our suffering is transpersonal and archetypal. “Who is it inside ourselves who is actually suffering?” becomes a relevant question, as we begin to recognize that we, not as ego but as Self, are participating in a divinely-sponsored passion play. Through our suffering we can recognize that we are not isolated entities separated in our suffering from the rest of the universe, but rather, are playing roles in a divine incarnation process which is not a product of our ego, but is a manifestation of the Self. We are going through a symbolic crucifixion experience, sharing in the suffering of Christ so as to share in his glory. Our suffering is our “share” of helping to free the anima mundi, the imprisoned world soul. This realization instantaneously enlarges our perspective, snaps us out of the self-generating, narcissistic trance of the separate self, and connects us with each other, as we are all in the same boat, all on the same side. The expression of this realization is compassion.
Spiritually speaking, freeing the spirit which is imprisoned in matter is to not identify with our thoughts, but to simply recognize their insubstantial, dreamlike nature and allow them to effortlessly transform, dissolve and spontaneously self-liberate of their own accord. A thought-form is like a whole, self-contained universe. When we identify with a thought-form’s contents and point of view, we become absorbed in and incarnate that particular dreamlike universe in a way that limits our creative freedom. Our creative spirit has then seemingly become trapped in matter; as we’ve unwittingly used our creative power against ourselves in a way that binds us. Recognizing the illusory and yet, reality-creating power of our thoughts allows us to create with our thoughts, instead of being created by them. Recognizing that we never experience this moment except through the creative imagination empowers us to alchemically transform our experience of ourselves, and, by nonlocal extension, the whole universe.
These are just extracts from a much longer article which is more detailed and well worth the time to read. ~ http://www.awakeninthedream.com/wordpress/the-sacred-art-of-alchemy/