I have wanted to write more on the topic of alchemy, as there are many interpretations as to what alchemy may signify. As Linden (2003) had informed “current scholarly concern is much more with the variety and diversity of conceptions of alchemy, the multiplicity of its definitions, the theoretical and practical malleability that makes alchemy useful and attractive to a broad interdisciplinary audience” (p. 4). Due to the vast interpretations of what alchemy may be, I would like to begin distinguishing an aspect of my understanding and findings of alchemy from what might be assumed so we may discuss how the conceptualization of alchemy can been understood in light of the process of projection.
What I have written on alchemy thus far at the addiction complex are fragments of a vast topic which I have studied psychologically:
- Alchemy: A deeper metaphor, August 5, 2012
- Frustration of calcinatio: Shame and guilt in addiction, September 15, 2012
- Alchemy: Symbolism in a vass, October 6, 2012
In discussing alchemy I am focusing on the unconscious act of projecting. I am discussing alchemy as singular (alchemy) rather than a pluralistic. I do not view the operations to be comprised of alchemies; alchemy, as an opus, is comprised of operations. Alchemy as a term is the vass of defining elements. Alchemy can be interpreted through chemistry, a manipulation or transformation of matter in the literal sense, as the separation of salts, the expressed tincture of health, a spiritual practice, metaphorical expression of individuation, etc. There are varying facets of how one may view alchemy, and I do not discount any specific interpretations, I am only directing the attention to my research and understanding of alchemy. In the same breath I am also interested in how others have not only come to find alchemy, but in how one has come to understand alchemy.
Schenk (2006) explained “(the) alchemist dealt with concrete substances, matter. Alchemy thought of material as having a singular essence, subjectivity, or soul” (p. 153).
As I speak of alchemy symbolically I understand that the aspect of chemistry may be diluted “with very little reference to the historical reality of the subject…that alchemists in their laboratories were not focuses on material substances and their actual transformations” (Newman and Principe, 2002, p. 37-38). From an analytical perspective we then observe the psychological and philosophical elements of the experience, and of any experience viewed psychologically, from a Jungian orientation the symbolic constructs are discussed. Newman and Principe further state that through the psychology of alchemy the alchemist can be seen as one “not engaged in chemical experimentation as such—instead the vague matter within his flask serves as the focal point for nonmaterial process” (p. 36). I view the vague matter to be of great significance in regard to the philosophical and psychological applications to metaphorical expression and psychological application.
Jung (1944/1993) Psychology and alchemy explained:
“this theory is more likely to be a rationalization of the experience of projection…to assume the real root of alchemy is to be sought less in philosophical doctrines than in the projections of the individual investigators. I mean by this that while working on his chemical experiments the operator had certain psychic experiences which appeared to him [her] as the particular behavior of the chemical process. Since it was a questions of projection, he [she] was naturally unconscious of the fact that the experience had nothing to do with the matter itself…he [she] experienced his [her] projection as a property of matter; but what he [she] was in reality experiencing was his [her] own unconsciousness” (p. 245).
By applying a symbolic understanding to the process of alchemy there is a beauty in the expression of what vague matter is relevant to an individual’s intrapsychic process; as alchemy symbolizes the individuation process, a descriptive metaphor which allows for the indirect and direct expression of projections. “Through the eyes of alchemy, the presenting problem is matter appearing in an unfinished form, the ore—unrefined, the metal—imperfect, its soul in pain, ugliness or disquiet…the alchemical clinician sees the beginning situation with a metaphorical eye” (Schenk, 2006, p. 156). Alchemy, from a depth psychological, or Jungian perspective is allowing for psychological content be it conscious or unconscious to ferment, purge, fester, decay, and grow to something profound and psychologically transformative.
To conclude, for now, Jung (1944/1993) stated:
“projection is never made; it happens, it is simply there. In the darkness of anything external to me I find, without recognizing it as such, an interior or psychic life that is my own” and that “the real mystery does not behave mysteriously or secretively; it speaks a secret language, it adumbrates itself by a variety of images which all indicate its true nature…a mystery, a matter or circumstance which is ‘secret’, i.e., known only through vague hints but essentially unknown. The real nature of matter was unknown to the alchemist: he [she] knew it only in hints. In seeking to explore it he [she] projected the unconscious into darkness of matter in order to illuminate it. In to explain the mystery of matter he [she] projected yet another mystery–his [her] own unknown psychic background–into what was to be explained” (p. 244-245).
Jung, C. G. (1993). Psychology and alchemy. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 12). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1944).
Linden, S. (2003). The alchemical reader: From Hermes trismegistus to Isaac Newton. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Newman, W., & Principe, L. (2002). Alchemy Tried in the Fire: Starkey, Boyle, and the Fate of Helmontian Chemistry. Chicago, Il: The University of Chicago Press.
Schenk, R. (2006). The alchemical attitude of the analytic mind: An introductory primer on prima materia for initial beginners at the start. In Carter, N. (Eds.), Spring 74. Alchemy: A journal of archetype and culture. (pp. 151-174).
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Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex