Jung, scholar of esoteric doctrines and alchemic tradition
By Antonio D'Alonzo
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Jung is conscious that ‘ psychology might be able to strip alchemy of its mysteries, but it won't be able to reveal the mystery of the mysteries' (note 1). Alchemy is a tradition historically determined which can't be considered as a mere oneiric-symbolic product. The ‘mystery of the mysteries' described by Jung doesn't relate to the concrete historical existence of a whole of alchemic practices carried out during the centuries in different cultural contexts, but rather the fundament of this knowledge, viz. the relation between spirit and matter. The Swiss psychologist sees in alchemy a field of archaic knowledge, unexplored by experimental science, on which he could base his theories through the study of the psychic processes of integration; Jung himself says that a revealing dream directed him towards alchemy.
According to Jung alchemy is a kind of old ‘technique of the soul' able to realize, through the symbolic apparatus, the Self, the principium individuationis structured through the integrating exploration of the unconscious Ego. With this interpretation we can see how important the image of the laboratory as metaphor of personality is, through which we can obtain the transmutation (principle of individuation) of metal (Ego) into gold (Self). Alchemic applications ritually symbolize the process of inner perfecting. The work of the alchemist is nothing but an unconscious allegory of the journey of introspective perfecting. Even when he works empirically he reproduces – more or less consciously – the parabola of the inner journey of Self. In Psychology and Alchemy Jung extends his symbolic hermeneutics to the analysis of the historical reception of Western alchemic currents, diachronically widening the field of structural research to textual exegesis, whilst the matter is identified with the principle of feminine order that synthetically summarizes the Christian trinity, expressing the re-integration of the spirit into the material world and negativity.
In Rosarium philosophorum he highlights the ‘chemical marriage' between king and queen, which is functional to the analysis of the phenomenon of transference. The fourth dialectic factor, opposite to Hegelian idealism, guarantees the rehabilitation of the feminine polarity and the passive principle, since:
‘the work on the matter symbolically rehabilitates the feminine and obscure polarity of reality, what we call ‘evil', which Augustine's Christian theology deprived of ontological reality after the defeat of Gnosticism and Manichaeism.' (note 2)
Jung gives a lot of space to Paracelsus' writings, to the ‘Mercury spirit' and to the symbolism of the tree. But the main figure at the center of Jungian interest is Zosimos of Panopolis (III-IV A.D.). Jung was fascinated by Zosimos' treaties because of their visionary features, the oneiric projections on the objectivity of the matter, perceived by alchemists as intrinsic substantiality and not as a mere result of the dynamics of the unconscious process of individuation. In the Mysterium Coniunctionis , the last work before his death, Jung seems to realize that the dialectic integration of the fourth term – matter – in the divine Trinitarian scheme expresses symbolically the Whole, yet it doesn't realize it concretely and only mentions its possibility. The concretization of the alchemic work is given only by the effective, viz. spiritual, unification between man and cosmos ( Unus Mundus , according to Dornean terminology). At the end Jung, in his constructive approach to alchemy, abandons the idea of overcoming the doctrinal boundary between the reassuring shore of psycho-analytical interpretation and the obscure karstic streams of initiatory operations. Despite his enormous erudition in the subject, he remains a psychologist, miles away from the followers of contemporary neo-gnosis. The task to widen the epistemological horizon of the Jungian research on alchemy has been carried on by two followers of his work, Marie Luise von Franz and Robert Grinell. The former connects the Jungian elaborations on the alchemic coniunction to the theory of synchronicity, referring to the heritage of the classic esoteric doctrine of micro-macrocosm, viz. the anthropo-cosmic dimension of the Whole. Grinell, on the other hand, focuses on the ‘alchemic' re-elaboration of the psychoid processes, defined as indissoluble interactions between spirit and matter; he excludes completely the possibility of a unilateral reading that doesn't take into consideration the coniuctio of the two words.
We can say that the alchemic science in the work of the Swiss psychologist becomes the preferred language to express a series of fundamental interactions obliterated by the paradigm of Christian and Cartesian dualism dominating in the western world. According to Jung alchemy compensates, integrates and re-joins the lacerating separation of the body of modern man with the Kingdom of Nature ; it can harmonize in the Whole the dichotomy of the subject and the object, the observer and the phenomenon. This is not a counter-paradigm, but rather an attempt to rectify the ratiocentric unbalance, which causes many contemporary neuroses, through the harmony of the opposites.
Jung confessed that he felt isolated during his long research. He said he was a loner because he was interested in things ‘that others ignore and usually prefer to ignore ' (note 3). At first Jung was isolated because of his interest in Freudian theories and in the strange method of curing hysterics through the therapy of listening rather than through forced therapies; this was psychoanalysis. Freud's thought, though, was too focused on the libido and on the ‘numinousity' of the subject of incest, in other words ratiocentric and illuministic; it didn't deeply affect the cultural and speculative interests of the psychologist from Basel, always spurred by subjects regarding the super-personal dimension of religious and mythological symbolism. Jung soon understands the value of unconscious structures shaped as collective a priori judgments called ‘archetypes', which Freud minimizes. The break from Freud occurs and for Jung a new period of inner disorientation and isolation starts. Between 1918 and 1926 Jung starts taking an interest in the Gnostic doctrine, although he considers it culturally too distant from contemporary ideas. The meeting with alchemy provides him with the ‘bridge' for the historical link between the past stratified in the Gnostic and Neo-Platonist doctrine and the present, with the modern science of the unconscious. Alchemy provides Jung with the historical bases for his hypothesis of work and the literary pre-figurations of the inner experience matured during his youth and his Freudian period. In 1928 Jung receives from the great German sinologist Richard Wilhelm a book about Taoist alchemy, The secret of the golden flower , which opens new speculative horizons for Jung. In particular, thanks to the reading of alchemy books, he manages to interpret the meaning of a dream where he is imprisoned in the seventeenth century. The Swiss psychologist dreams of being in war and coming back from the frontline on a farmer's cart drawn by a horse. Then a castle appears at the horizon and the cart enters the main door. Suddenly all the doors shut and the farmer tells him that they are prisoners in the seventeenth century.
Jung considers the event as the sign of personal predestination to the systematic and exhaustive study of alchemic literature. Alchemy becomes for Jung the historical equivalent of analytical psychology, which can be used to conceive the unconsciousness as an individual and collective process of transformation that interacts and relates to the dynamic sphere of consciousness that takes the name of process of individuation . Alchemy provides the Swiss psychologist the exegetic keys to interpret a universe of symbolic and imaginal meanings. The figure of Paracelsus, for example, allows Jung to examine the relation between alchemy and the religious culture of the time. In Psychology and Alchemy Jung compares and puts in a symbolic relation Christ and the lapis philosophorum , the legendary stone that alchemists tried to produce in their laboratories. In the meantime several dreams give Jung the proof that he is on the right path. One night Jung wakes up and has a hypnopompic hallucination; he sees a big green and golden crucifix at the foot of his bed. He interprets the dream as an alchemic vision of Christ. In the Secret of the golden Flower Jung describes the Taoist process of circulation of the vital energy inside the body, but most of all he manages to effectively relate the search for the inner Chinese elixir (nei tan) with the medieval and Christian issue of the spiritual body. He has the decisive intuition on the secret of the opus as coniuction oppositorum , transmutation of gross matter into spiritual matter; in psychoanalytical words, the interrelation between conscience and unconsciousness, a process aimed at determining the Self, or principle of individuation.
In the Mysterium coniuctionis , the last true work before his death, Jung deals with the writings by Ripley, Dorn, Abraham Eleazar and he mostly relies on the hermeneutic analysis of the alchemic symbolism. The Jungian coniunctio of matter and spirit fits in an ‘intermediate place' ( metaxû) , where conscience and psychic matter integrate each other by interaction. In the same years Henri Corbin defines such layer as Imaginal , starting a series of researches that outline the contemporary studies on collective imagery, backed up by Jungian followers but also by scholars of other disciplines, such as Gilbert Durand, theorist of anthropology of the Imagery.
Jung and The visions of Zosimos
Jung dedicates a specific study to the Panopolite The visions of Zosimos , where he examines the Treaty on art or Peri arêtes (literally ‘on virtues' ) where the Panopolite tells the content of a progressive series of dreams interrupted by short awakenings, almost to mark the time of the oneiric-symbolic production and conscious interpretation. Jung thinks that the oneiric series doesn't reflect an allegoric transposition but rather a unique vision able to refer to a real experience; it was quite common for alchemists at the time to have dreams and visions whilst the Opus was carried out, where psychic unconscious contents were projected on the matter and on chemical processes.
According to Jung, Zosimo's visions as well reflect the unconscious projections on matter, a dynamic process that seems to characterize almost all the alchemists. Through the projections on the matter, on the lapis or on the divine water, the alchemist got in contact, even if in an allegorical form, with unconsciousness.
Jung describes imaginatio as a ‘concentrated extract of live forces, corporeal as well as physical' that allow the operator to unconsciously get in contact with unconsciousness; therefore he can finally re-elaborate and re-define his own personality. At the time of late ancient alchemy Jung remembers that there wasn't the rigid Cartesian separation between matter and spirit; alchemists worked inside a hypothetical intermediate realm, called ‘subtle body' in Indian philosophy. In this sense Zosimos projected on the matter his philosophical ideas, strongly influenced by the Gnostic doctrines of the time. Zosimos, like other alchemists, must have felt that there was some kind of relation between the transformation of matter and psychic processes, although he couldn't clearly define the dynamics involved in the interaction, due to the unconscious nature of the process itself. According to psychoanalysis the unconscious contents removed by the censoring mechanisms of conscience symbolically emerge in dreams and fancies. The Katabasis of the pneuma as Son of God that descends in the Matter and later gets rid of it through the anabatic process, corresponds, according to Jung, to the projection of an unconscious content that reifies itself by objectifying itself in the matter. According to Jung here we also find the main difference between Christianity and alchemy; in the latter the Katabatic process is not focused on the body of the chosen, like in the former, but continues its descent in the ‘infernal' bowels of the matter. In this sense alchemy questions the wickedness of Matter, of Pythagorean inspiration, therefore orphic, by recovering the feminine aspect, the ‘evil', duality, the other Parmenidean path. In alchemy Matter is not simply disowned as ‘tomb of the soul'; a process aimed at freeing the Anima Mundi imprisoned in it through its redemption starts. For Zosimos the Son of God is a Gnostic Christ; after all according to Jung the Panopolite belonged to a hermetic community, as it is testified by the references to the symbol of the Crater, title of one of the treaties in the Corpus Hermeticum . In the Commentary of the letter Omega Zosimos calls Heimarmene the Son of God that realized the liberation from the realm of blind fatality. The Son of God is compared to Adam, of which he is the inner spiritual aspect, on his turn equivalent to the Anthropoos , symbol of wholeness, represented by the cross and the four cardinal directions; he is the symbol of completeness. In the passage by Zosimos quoted in Psychology and Alchemy , we can see a series of allegorical connections: the earthly Adam is compared to Thoth, the Egyptian Hermes, and to Epymetheus; Christ, the inner man, the Celestial Adam, the cabbalistic Adam Kadmon, is compared to Prometheus and to a man of light, purely spiritual. Nevertheless according to Jung the man of light is a Christian re-shaping of the original archetype of the primogenial Man, idea drawn from Neo-Platonism and re-elaborated by Florentine humanists in the fifteenth century.
Zosimos places as antagonist of the Son of God the Antimimos daimon , the imitator, that here symbolizes the principle of evil; nevertheless we must not think of this dichotomies as substantial metaphysical hypostases. On the contrary, dualism is only an intermediate stage that prepares the superior monistic synthesis that dissolves the contradictions of the phenomenal world. The alchemic Mercury is eclectically able to ‘become everything' and overcome aporias. The ouroborus is a symbol of the pervasive omnipresence of the One-Whole, the snake that bites its tail, allegory of the circularity of transformation, of the two-fold nature of the perennial ring of the becoming, like Janus Bifrons, light and darkness, good and evil, Basilisk and Savior, scorpion and panacea are two faces of the same coin. Like the Great Mother Kali that creates to destroy and destroys to create, the ouroborus devours and regenerate itself, in the same way the hermaphrodite creates dialectic by rejoining the separation of the opposites, originated by the hatred of Zeus towards androgynous happiness, according to the famous image of the platonic Symposium. The Anthropos of Zosimos testifies the attempt to rethink the whole and the totality, which in Jungian terms means to sense the principle of individuation, the Self, the point of interrelation between conscience and unconsciousness. Mercury is compared to the Ouroboros , the snake that devours itself, symbol of the self-regenerating transformation; both go back to the Hermaphrodite. They are chthonic spirits, which have both a male spiritual and a feminine coarse aspect. Indeed, Jung reminds us, in the first matter nous and physis have become identical and undistinguishable, an abscondita nature that goes back to the Gnostic myth of the imprisonment of Sophia in the world of the coarse manifestation:
‘The original Gnostic myth has undergone a curious transformation. In the first matter nous and physis have become a unique undistinguishable thing, an absconded nature' (note 4)
Of course Jung couldn't have vouched for the Gnostic Mythologem of the divinity imprisoned in the realm of Matter, but his great interpretative abilities allowed him to re-read their contents in a psychoanalytical key. The alchemic process, the processing of Mathesis , can be referred to the projections of the unconscious removed in the matter, viz. the return of the perturbing element in the conscience, process that normally finds its explanation in the oneiric contents and fancies.
‘The process consists of an invasion of the conscience by unconscious contents; it is so strictly connected to the alchemic world of ideas that it is justified to suppose that the same processes occur in alchemy, or at least very similar to those of active and oneiric imagination and finally of the process of individuation'. (note 5)
The alchemist wasn't aware that he was realizing a process of divinization or of imitatio Christi . Nevertheless, since the lapis is nothing but a projection of the Self, the latter is comparable with the Redeemer: the alchemist that would become able to analyze his projections ‘<…> not only would see in himself the analogue of Christ, but he would have to recognize in Christ the symbol of Self'. (note 6)
The difference between Christian orthopraxis and alchemic opus is in the fact that whilst the former is represented by working in the world in honor of the Redeeming God, in the latter is man himself that is invested with the character of Redeemer, although limited to the role of medium, instrument to free in a Gnostic way the divine imprisoned in the matter. Whilst in Christianity the redemption descends from the outside and from the top on all men of good will, in alchemy the Artifex redeems itself by redeeming the matter:
‘The Christian obtains ex opere operato the results of the grace; on the contrary, the alchemist creates ex opere operantis (in a literal sense) a ‘medicine', a ‘remedy' of life, which for him either replaces the vehicles of the grace offered by the Church or is the complement and parallel of the work of divine redemption that continues in man'. (note 7)
At the time it must have been very common in the religious imagery the figure of the spirit prisoner of the darkness of the world, waiting for liberation, which would lead to the personal saving of the hero and the whole creation. It is obvious that the liberation of the spirit was limited to the projection of the archetypes and unconscious contents of the matter, but in the common feelings of alchemists the realization of the opus should have guaranteed the restoration of the lost Edenic harmony, or in psychoanalytic terms, the appurtenance and the interrelation of the unconsciousness with the Ego, the principle of individuation.
Three kinds of alchemic symbolisms
In this chapter, for reasons of space, I will only analyze three of the many kinds of oneiric symbolisms present in Zosimos' dream and interpreted by Jung. We must point out how it is possible to find many of these symbols outside the proper oneiric production, for example in religious iconography, in literary production or in the artistic figurative elaboration.
Together with Jung we can then notice how the religious symbolism, and the alchemic one in particular, are the structural fundament able to connect the unconscious production of the subject to the ordinary experience of the rational sphere.
• water and ouroboros
Jung focuses his attention on the symbolism of water – introduced by Zosimos himself at the opening of the treaty – because in the different religious traditions it is associated with the rising of life and purification. Furthermore, in psychoanalysis water represents unconsciousness. In alchemy water is called Aqua Divina or Permanens and it is extracted from the Lapis, in this case intended as Primordial Matter, through the cooking of fire or a blow of the sword from the Cosmic Egg, symbol of totality at a potential status, or it is obtained through Separatio, the decomposition in the four elements ( Radices) . The divine water is found in the matter as Anima Mundi (also called Anima Aquina). The process of separatio is allegorically represented by the dismemberment of the human body and it symbolizes the principle of transformation that marks the stages of the opus and the passage from nigredo to albedo.
Another symbol of the divine water is the mercurial snake that is cut into pieces; it reminds us of the dismemberment of the human body, metaphor of the regenerating self-transformation, effectively represented by the ouroboros , the reptile that devours its own tail. According to Mertens, Zosimos might have taken the idea of the dismemberment of the snake functional to the edification of the temple from a magic book called Orphei Lithica , where there is mention of the dismemberment of the reptile with the help of a sword near an altar.
It is interesting to notice how in the symbolism of the Ouroboros the contact of the mouth with the tail has a two-fold meaning. At a first glance, it looks like the reptile is eating its lower limbs, but nothings prevents us from thinking that it is actually fecundating its tail and the body itself. This ambivalence must be intended as an attempt to leave the dichotomy of the empiric experience, where the observer is always forced to recognize an object in front of himself, leading the mirror like Christian metaphysics back to the Neo-Platonist paradigm of monistic inspiration, whilst in the Jungian perspective it testifies the attempt to dissolve the polysemy of the oneiric structures in the principle of synchronicity.
Indeed in the first of Zosimos' visions the figure of the priest that sacrifices himself appears; it is an obvious reference to the ouroboros but also, according to Jung, to Christ. It is not a coincidence, in Jungian interpretation, that the self-sacrifice is carried out through dismemberment, a feature that recalls the mysterial tradition of the cults of Dionysus torn into pieces by the Titans and of Orphism, where the hero is ripped apart by the maenads. After all in Bacchae Euripides describes the maenads ecstatically chasing after a deer that they will tear apart with their teeth when it is still alive, as the highest manifestation of the Dionysian orgasm.
• skinning and beheading
The altar in the shape of a cup, which in Zosimos' dream is used to boil men, refers to the symbolism of the Athanor and the alchemic furnace. The symbolic death and resurrection by skinning, which the main character of Zosimos' dream is subjected to, according to Jung refers to the myth of the God Attis, who bled to death after being attacked by a wild boar, to the myth of Marsyas, who challenged Apollo in a musical contest and to the same Mani, contemporary of Zosimos. Jung reminds us that the rite of skinning was present in Athens , where every year an ox was skinned and stuffed, but it also existed among Shiites, Chinese and the inhabitants of Patagonia . In the Mesoamerican pantheon as well there is a complex symbolic-numeric cosmology, the gods undergo several deaths by skinning in order to reproduce in the doubles of the same divinities. In Zosimos' vision, the rite of skinning refers to the head, viz. it is rather a scalping. Jung eruditely mentions how to devour the heart, the brain or to wear the enemy's skin meant to take on his qualities and vital characteristics. This is why in many archaic traditions the rite was reserved to the imprisoned and defeated warrior. The skinning represents the regenerating transformation. In the symbolic alchemic universe, it represents the extraction of the pneuma, the volatile or liquid element from matter through the mortification of the body of the latter. The extracted Aqua Divina was necessary to reinvigorate the dead body but also to complete the further process of extraction of the soul. This is the reason for the circularity of the regenerating self-transformation present in alchemy; the essence is present and obliterated in the same corruptible body and it must be extracted to reinvigorate what was destined to the decadence of corruption or, in alternative, to ensure the liberation of the soul. The scheme is present in the mythologem of the death by dismembering of the old king, symbol of the hypertrophy of the Ego, which is unaware and therefore overwhelmed by unconsciousness. The extraction of the edema and the drying of the corpse preludes to reinvigoration and vital rebirth. Whilst at the beginning the body of the king was overcome by water, viz. unconsciousness, now the water has been wiped off and separated from the body, the path of analysis is open and there is awareness of the removed contents.
In Zosimos' dream beheading has a very important meaning, too. The head, symbol of roundness, represents the circular motion that subtends the transformation of the arcane substance. Jung reminds us that the head also allegorically recalls the sun in symbolic connection with the gold, therefore with the same arcane substance or lapis.
• The crater, angels, Isis
The altar in the shape of a cup refers to a hermetic image which is certainly known to Zosimos; it is the crater full of nous in the IV treaty of the Corpus Hermeticum , symbolically comparable to the initiatory cave or to the baptismal water that represents the passage from a status of conscience to another. Indeed, Jung mentions a passage where Zosimos urges a disciple to dive in the crater in order to go back to her true descent.
The initiatory value of the cup-altar is obvious; by dipping into it, the disciple will be able to realize the initiatory passage, in the process of profane death by immersion and rebirth by emersion, joining for all intents and purposes the school or the circle of alchemists.
‘The crater of Poimandres is the baptismal basin where men who are still unaware and lack knowledge and aspire to ennoia can acquire awareness.' (note 8)
In another book mentioned by Jung, Isis and Horus , water has a primary role. After all, as the author himself highlights, it goes back to the Nile, the big river that in Egypt ensures the flow of life. Osiris, a God who has been dismembered like Dionysus and Orpheus, symbolizes lead and sulfur, therefore the arcane substance. Lead is the water coming from the male element, which is connected to fire, therefore with spirit. Indeed, as Jung says, in the concept of alchemic aqua nostra are symbolically recalled fire and spirit as well as the water element.
In Isis and Osiris the Egyptian goddess refuses the unification with the two angels; the second of them reveals to her the secret of preparation of gold and silver, which the Egyptian goddess passes on to her son Horus. According to Jung the angel represents the volatile substance, the pneuma, which in alchemy is always related with water, in other words with the arcane substance, but also the personification of the unconscious forces that face the conscience. In the sixth chapter of the Genesis, in fact, angels show a particular interest for women on earth; in Enoch's book they carnally meet them. Jung reminds us that from this myth originates the use of women to cover their heads when they enter a Church. In both cases, either angels symbolize the volatile substance or the forces of unconsciousness, the perturbing, it is obvious why Jung attributes them the value of powerful hierophanies able to symbolize the epiphanic bursting of energy that go beyond the sphere of rationality and conscience, trail marker of the integrity of the journey of individuation.
Isis herself, says Jung, can be identified as Primordial Matter and feminine polarity in charge of transmutation. The motif of the archetype of the Great Mother symbolizes the insubstantiality of the becoming and it must be searched in the outburst of opposite instincts present at the same time in the feminine aspect:
‘As Kerény brilliantly demonstrated on the basis of the example of the Medea, it is a typical combination of themes of love, wickedness, cruelty, maternity, murder of relatives and infanticide, magic, rejuvenation and … gold. The same combination appears in Isis and in the first matter and it forms the nucleus of the drama caused by the motherly world, without which any reunification appears impossible' (note 9).
The true meaning of the Stone
Jung highlights that Zosimos opposes the ‘carnal' and the ‘spiritual' man. The latter is characterized by an unceasing research of God; nevertheless, we must not neglect that the carnal man, renamed Thoth or Adam by Zosimos, has in his essence an embryonic version of the spiritual man called ‘Light'. The carnal and spiritual men are respectively called Epymeteus and Prometheus, the titan that by marrying Pandora is jointly responsible for the misfortunes of the humankind and the titan that gives men the gift of fire. In the Jungian exegesis, the two men form a unique man, but the spiritual man can't get rid of the body because he has been tied to it by Eve or Pandora. The latter is nothing but the Soul in the Jungian sense of the word, the western correspondent of Śakti , the bride-extension of Śiva or Maya, the magical illusion surrounding the phenomenal world. In the Jungian thought the animic function rules the attitude that the Ego takes towards the inner world, where all the submerged aspects of personality that can't emerge to the conscience because of the censoring mechanisms, lie. The male animic function is Anima , opposite to the public role of identity and characterized by Logos, whilst the feminine is Animus , whose principle is Eros. Therefore Pandora or Eve, in the Jungian thought, designates the Soul. But Lapis as well represents the inner man, the dues absconditus forgotten in the matter; at this point Jung seizes well the analogy between lapis and Christ; the Son assumes a human nature, he covers himself in a corruptible body destined to suffering and death therefore he has a symbolic relation with the Lapis, the divine Principle hidden in the matter. For Jung the two terms are complementary rather than identical; the symbol of the Lapis compensates the spirituality that is too rarified and far from the possibilities of the ordinary man. On the contrary in the lapis, according to Jung, spirit is transformed into the ‘carnality' of the matter, securing the attributes of the inner Christ present in the heart of every man. The lapis completes and crowns the Christic redemption, ‘ it is the Filius Macrocosmi, on the contrary of the ‘son of man', which is called filius microcosmi' .
But the filius macrocosmi , an image that evokes the concrete reification of the divine Principle able to transmute operatively the inner nature, is not related with the Ego by Jung, but rather with the psychic boundary areas. According to Jung under the theological aspect the dogma of Trinity is incomplete and imperfect because it lacks the fourth term, the feminine, viz. in psychoanalytic terms, the Soul; the author continuously mentions this term in the oneiric structure and in the symbolism of the mandala. For the Swiss psychologist the dogma of the assumption and coronation of Mary can compensate this absence, since it brings the feminine element and leads from Trinity to Quaternity. The equalization between feminine and matter opposed to masculine-spiritual in the mentality of alchemists, is represented by the lapis, a word that means arcane substance, Aqua Divina , primordial matter as well as stone. Jung completes the identification between feminine (which becomes demoniac in the contents of removal) and the stone, often associated to the mother's womb; he mentions the parallels with other traditions, such as Mithra, born from a stone; the Australian belief that the souls of unborn children are generated by stones; Australian Churingas who believe that oblong stones contains the mana of the totemic ancestor. The stone, according to tradition, cures Orestes' madness and Zeus' love-sickness; in India it is used as a fundament to testify the honesty of the oaths sworn by adolescents and young brides. Estsànatlehi , the Apache Changing-Woman , conceived by the Hieros gamos of Father Heaven and Mother Earth, is generated by a stone, precisely by a turquoise, which Jung identifies with one of the many manifestations of the Soul, comparable to the Mediterranean Omphale, Circe and Atlantis. Jung's equalization between Stone and Soul must first of all introduce the wider relation between the stone and Self, viz. the principle of individuation, since the royal art is more common among men than women. He backs his theories based on this identification by using a huge mythological literature, where the birth from the rock is narrated, comparing the stone with a woman's womb. The stone recalls other symbolic motifs linked with birth by assuming the form of the body of an evil twin, like in the Iroquoian myth, or even by serving as fertilizing principle. Among the Pueblo people of New Mexico the civilizing hero was born from a virgin made pregnant by stones, whilst Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent of the Mesoamerican pantheon, was conceived by a green colored stone; when this color is associated to a mineral it has a vivifying role in other traditions as well. For example it is said that the Grail is an emerald fallen from Lucifer's forehead. If we also consider the cult of megalithic menhirs and the aboriginal cult of the above mentioned churinga , we can agree with Jung that the Lapis has always been a symbol of the immortality that survives to the changes of the becoming. Therefore the lapis gives wealth and health to the person who owns it; it is an elixir and a panacea. In other words, according to the perspective of psychoanalysis, the only one that interests Jung, the Lapis, male and female projection respectively of Anima and Animus, is the Self, the Principium Individuationis , the idea of transcendent totality. The Lapis is the inner man, integral or primordial, harmoniously balanced in its components of body, soul and spirit. The seventeenth-century Cartesian metaphysics, on the contrary, removes the spiritual dimension and equalizes soul and spirit, falling back to the dichotomist contradictions of mechanistic dualism. The lapis, on the contrary, assumes the harmonious development of the integral man in all his functions. Certainly Jung refuses the possibility to consider the spirit according to metaphysical categories, but he doesn't refuse their instance a priori. On the contrary, for the founder of psychoanalysis the spirit is Self, whilst Anima or Animus correspond to unconscious projections. In this sense, the equalization proposed by alchemists between lapis and inner man could lead nowhere but to a comparison with the Redeemer at Christian times. In Zosimos' dream the lapis manifests itself as aqua divina , motif in itself related with the baptismal rite. As Jung reminds us, the miraculous water recalls the metaphor of the waves and it represents the flow of deaths and births, the becoming. To produce the lapis means to generate:
‘The incorruptible body, the ‘thing that doesn't die', the ‘invisible' and ‘spiritual' stone, the lapis aethereus, the panacea of all evils and the alexipharmic' (note 10)
Furthermore, since the water metaphorically recalls the flow of rebirths, it is symbolically connected to ouroboros , the snake that bites its tail for certain aspects – imago – of Christ himself. This similarity is recurrent in Gnosticism. Nevertheless, the miraculous water and the ouroboros don't mean to back up the image of the Savior as it is ‘simply' promoted by the Canonic Gospels. The Christ mentioned by alchemists has strong similarities with the dues absconditus obliterated in the matter, with the Gnostic Nous fallen in the realm of the corruptible world, who waits to be freed with the royal art and the production of the lapis.
Zosimos' thought was very popular between the fifth and sixth centuries A. D. but now it fell into oblivion. Christian Medieval times didn't appreciate the pagan features of its philosophy, whilst the erudite people of the Renaissance were put off his works by the obscure and bizarre character of his visions. We must give Jung credit for contributing to save Zosimos from oblivion, by dedicating to the Panopolite a specific study in Alchemical studies , plus many mentions and quotations spread throughout the rest of his work, although already at the beginning of the twentieth century Richard Reitzenstein, one of the last exponents of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule , started the trend of studying alchemy. After Reitzenstein and Jung, the historical study of alchemy and esotericism in general is no longer regarded with conceit and arrogance by the academic world; until no long ago the latter relegated all the disciplines that developed outside the reassuring boundaries of modern science into the field of an imprudent childhood of the spirit. In particular, Jung not only demonstrated that a meaning is hidden in alchemic symbolism but also that all the abstruse and peculiar operations carried out by alchemists refer to evolution and inner completeness. Alchemists of the time were not that different from modern ones and their research reproduced the instances of the modern world on a symbolic plane. Not only that. Alchemic symbolism was present in the dreams of many patients affected by neurosis; knowing it meant accelerating the therapeutic process. Jung was the first one to understand that the lapis philosophorum , the obscure stone unceasingly sought by alchemists, was nothing but the Self, the dynamic process of interrelation between conscience and unconsciousness. Jung was the first to perceive that behind the multiplicity of the contents and the symbolic polysemy of the alchemic writings, the message was univocal and universal, because it was addressed to men of all ages and conditions. It wouldn't be honest, though, to omit the excesses of Jungian exegesis, on its sometimes inopportunely programmatic character in the attempt to reduce many interpretations to suit his personal reading. This limit can be found in many famous interpreters of the past; contemporary hermeneutics have tried to overcome them through the principle of the so-called ‘fusion of the horizons'. Perhaps Jungian analysis has the fault of overrating unilaterally the importance of symbolic dimension, forgetting or neglecting the concrete operative function, on which the same alchemic symbol must be intrinsically founded. In any case, the Jungian works on alchemy remain a landmark for anyone who wants to approach this field of research, independently from the different aims of the contemporary reader. The rest is given by the ‘ability to listen'.
(note 1) Cf. Jung, Mysterium coniunctionis, pp. 165-166
(note 2) Cf. Pereira , Arcana Sapienza, p. 278
(note 3) Cf. Jung, Memories, dreams, reflections
(note 4) Cf. Jung, Psychology and alchemy
(note 5) Cf. Id.
(note 6) Cf. Id.
(note 7) Cf. Id.
(note 8) Cf. Jung, Alchemical studies. The quotation mentioned by Jung is in Zosimo di Panopoli , Il primo libro del computo finale, in Visioni e risvegli , edited by A. Tonelli, par. 8.5 p. 196.
(note 9) Cf. Jung , Mysterium coniunctionis, p. 27.
(note 10) Cf. Jung, Alchemical studies.
- C. G. Jung , Memories, dreams, reflections; English translation of Erinnerung, Traume, Gedanken von Carl Gustav Jung
- C. G. Jung, R. Wilhelm , The secret of the golden flower, English translation of Das Geheimnis der Goldenen Blüte. Ein chinesisches Lebensbuch
- C. G. Jung , Psychology and religion, English translation of Zur Psychologie Westlicher und östlicher Religion
- C. G. Jung , Psychology and Alchemy , English translation of Psychologie und Alchemie
- C. G. Jung , Alchemical studies, English translation of Studien über alchemistische Vorstellungen
- C. G. Jung , Mysterium Coniunctionis
- C. G. Jung , The practice of Psychotherapy, English translation of Praxis der Psychotherapie
- Zosimo di Panopoli , Visioni e risvegli, edited by A. Tonelli, Bur, Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli, Milan 2004
- M. Heidegger , Nietzsche
- M. Pereira , Arcana Sapienza, Carocci, Rome 2001
- A. A. V. V. Directed by M. Eliade, “ Alchimia”, in Enciclopedia delle religioni , vol. 1, vol. 2, Italian edition edited by R. Scagno, Marzorati, Jaca Books, Milan 1993
- M. Eliade , The sacred and the profane
- M. Eliade , The forge and the crucible , English translation of Forgerons et alchimistes
- M. Mertens , Les alchimistes grecs, tome IV, 1° parte- Zosime de Panapolis, mèmoires authentiques , Les Belles Lettres , Paris 2002
- J. M. Keynes , « Newton the man», Royal Society, Newton Tercentenary Celebrations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1947
- A. Faivre , Accès de l'ésotérisme occidental, vol. II, Gallimard, Paris 1996
- Dizionario dei simboli ( Dictionary of symbols, Note of the Translator) , Bur, Milan 1999.