Gold awaits your discovery!
While it would be nice to be able to literally turn lead into gold, especially in today's economy, alchemy can give you the ability to find inner gold. Alchemy is a deeply rich subject to investigate. It is filled with metaphors, symbols, mysterious directives and procedures that support one thing: transforming base material into gold. Alchemists also sought youth and immortality in their search for the elixir of life. Today, it is unanimously agreed that alchemy is nothing but another failed attempt at changing the laws of physics through fanciful thinking. On the exoteric, physical level, that conclusion would be difficult to disprove.
This article is not going to explain in detail what the alchemists were up to. Rather, it will serve to encourage you to make use of alchemy as a way to powerfully address and transform the problems, setbacks, and difficulties in your life. An alchemical understanding applied to present-day problems provides rare opportunities for inner growth and development. In this regard, alchemy is alive and well today. It is there to give you an insightful and self-empowering way to work with the contents of your psyche (mind) to support the discovery of inner gold—psychological and spiritual growth and awareness.
The quickest way to capture the essence of alchemy is to know that alchemy was practiced on two different levels, the exoteric and esoteric, the outer and inner. Exoteric alchemy sought to turn lead into gold. And, like other mystery schools, there was an esoteric side to alchemy, which non-explicitly but knowingly brought consciousness, mind, and spirit into the equation. Esoterically, alchemy was a psychological–spiritual practice. And while the two appeared separate, any good alchemist worth their salt would tell you that they were inseparably one. By projecting the psyche's contents into the tangible, physical materials being worked with, the alchemist was, in essence, aiming to transform mind and matter. Interestingly, as science has delved deeper into the study of matter, it discovered that mind and matter are inseparable—consciousness and matter are paradoxically one. There is no objective world "out there" other than the one we construct through our inner perception.
By now you're probably wondering, how do we discover gold? And the answer is simple, yet psychologically very powerful. In order to find gold, the alchemist started with the blackest, darkest material he could find. Called the prima materia, the dark (negative) substance was known to hide within it the gold the alchemist sought. Psychologically, this brings to light the wisdom that awareness, healing, and the return to wholeness will only be found by going into the dark material of one's self. The key to transformation is to realize that hidden inside our problems, hangups, and difficulties is the hidden gold we consciously desire or unconsciously seek. An individual's prima materia is unique to him or her. It will be the one thing that holds the greatest resistance or "charge" to it. The dark substance can be jealousy, anger, guilt, shame, fear, inferiority, or depression. At times it appears outside the person, such as failure in work, school, relationships, or one's career.
In the book Anatomy of the Psyche Edward Edinger writes,
"Although of great inward value, the prima materia is vile in outer appearance and therefore despised, rejected, and thrown into the dung heap. Psychologically, this means that the prima materia is found in the shadow, that part of the personality that is considered most despicable. Those aspects of ourselves most painful and most humiliating are the very ones to be forward and worked on."
The wisdom here is to not see our difficulties, addictions, flaws, failures, and shortcomings as problems, but as valuable substance that contains within it the precise material our psyche needs to be working with in order to become whole. For some perspective on just how fundamentally different this simple change in viewpoint is, take a moment to think on how we are conditioned to deal with our problems in today's society. Problems, the prima materia of the psyche, are denied, suppressed, medicated and done away with through all sorts of mind-numbing distractions, including media over-stimulation, useless drama, materialism, and anything else that keeps us too busy to "unplug" and get in touch with what's really going on inside ourselves.
Now that alchemy has given us a new way of looking at and relating to our problems, we are in a position to reconnect with the inner alchemist inside us that we didn't even know was there. Through our perception, thoughts, and thinking, we are projecting mind onto matter all the time, giving rise to our sense of self, other, and the world "out there." In alchemy, the prima materia is deliberatly subjected to different processes that change and ultimately serve to transform the dark substance into valuable gold. In the same way, by changing the way we see and work with a problem, we are engaged in the process of transformation. And this where alchemy really comes alive. From here we can get highly creative in what we do with the problems and difficulties we are dealing with. Instead of being a victim and feeling overwhelmed, alchemy invites us to consciously work through the darkness in our lives in order to transform the base material of the psyche into psychological and spiritual gold.
C.G. Jung. Alchemical Studies (Collected Works of C.G. Jung vol. 13).
C.G. Jung, Nathan Schwartz-Salant. Jung on Alchemy.
C.G. Jung. Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works of C.G. Jung vol. 12).
Edinger, Edward F. Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy.
Edinger, Edward F. The Mystery of the Coniunctio: Alchemical Image of Individuation.
Marie-Louise von Franz. Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology (Studies in Jungian Psychology).
Marie-Louise von Franz. Alchemical Active Imagination (C.G. Jung Foundation Books).
Mark Bancroft, MA, is a holistic practitioner specializing in holistic health and healing. Mark uses conventional and non-conventional techniques, such as alchemy, to help his clients deepen their healing process and accelerate positive change and transformation in their lives. Mark sees clients at his office in Nevada City, CA, and provides telephone and Skype sessions for those living outside the area.
Mark Bancroft, MA
Nevada City, CA