The Origin of Alchemy and the Image of God in Man

Despite its apparent lack of success the 'sacred art' of alchemy persisted for more than seventeen hundred years. The essential duality which characterised alchemy from the very beginning, by which the work was divided into the practica and the theoria, reflects the confluence in Hellenistic times of a new spirit with a very old tradition.

by Phil Williams
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Published by New Alchemy © MM

We must admit the fact, however difficult it is for us to understand, that something which previous ages have discarded should suddenly come to our attention.

C. G. Jung (in Modern Man in Search of a Soul)

Frontispiece Amphitheatrum sapientiae

Engraving from Heinrich Khunrath, Amphitheatrum sapientiae, 1609. Illuminated by Adam McLean.

Oratory and laboratory; the two halves of the opus alchemicum. The perspective converges on a door at the centre, which opens into a golden exterior. The legacy of alchemy is not the making of fool's gold, but an altogether more spiritual process of purification and synthesis that produces and protects the true personality within.

DESPITE its apparent lack of success the 'sacred art' of alchemy persisted for more than seventeen hundred years. The essential duality which characterised alchemy from the very beginning, by which the work was divided into the practica and the theoria, reflects the confluence in Hellenistic times of a new spirit with a very old tradition. Alchemy combined the Gnostic spirit of Greek natural philosophy with the highly developed magico-techne of old Egypt, particularly in relation to metallurgy, the dyeing of materials, and the embalming process associated with the regeneration mysteries of Osiris. This ancient god of resurrection provided a close analogy with the Gnostic doctrine of the Anthropos, the androgynous original man caught in the embrace of Physis and in need of redemption. (1) Right up until its high water mark in the seventeenth century it was this myth, above all else, that motivated, consciously or otherwise, the practica of alchemical operations; thereafter declining as the practical and experimental approach to matter began to discover empirical science and discard the old theories.

With the first existent writings dating from around the first century AD, the 'holy technique of Egypt' (2) continued to flourish in the West through Greek, Arabic and from the twelfth century onwards European countries up until the end of the seventeenth century. A parallel form of alchemy also developed in the East, in which the liberation of the 'true man' from within was sought in forms of Indian yoga and Chinese Taoism. In contrast to the East however, the less introvert nature of Western alchemy always persevered with the material aspect of the work, and despite the fact that no genuine alchemist could claim to have produced the famed lapis, the philosophers' immortal stone, (3) innumerable treatise were written on the mysterious processes by which it was to be produced.

According to C. G. Jung, this unfailing fascination with the obscurities of matter persisted in and through the psychological fact that the darkness of ignorance does not remain empty but is immediately filled and animated by unconscious projections of our own psyche. Projections are never made, they occur involuntarily and unconsciously create a situation in which the inner is experienced via the outer. (4) Jung traced the root of projection back to an undifferentiated state or 'archaic identity' between man and his natural environment, first described by the anthropologist Lévy-Bruhl as a participation mystique, a condition in which, ultimately, both subject and object converge into One nature. (5)

The naive alchemist, witnessing seemingly 'miraculous' changes within the retort might, therefore, be forgiven for having seen in the opus alchemicum no more than the false yet shimmering possibility of transforming base metals into noble ones, a possibility which did not appear implausible so long as the secret of the art remained projected into unknown matter. Although many alchemists, even from earliest times, were clearly aware of a secret correspondence or meaningful connection of the opus to man, and rightly shunned crude or vulgar understanding of its materials and procedures, it was only towards the end of the long tradition that the basis or prima materia of the opus finally split into its composite parts, man on the one hand and matter on the other, thus breaking the original projection.

Surprisingly perhaps this separation of psyche and matter only hastened the demise of alchemy. For as science freed itself of religion in an Age of Enlightenment and work in the laboratory finally shed its arcane symbolisms to become modern chemistry, so the philosophical side of the work forfeit the creative medium - the living soul - of its projections, (6) only to become the inanimate preserve of secret societies such as the Rosicrucians, "the whole raison d'être of which," according to Jung, "is to guard a secret that has lost its vitality and can only be kept alive as an outward form." (7) Much more than this, however, was the consequence of appropriating the mythos of the Anthropos to consciousness, a consequence which found literary expression in the inflated figures of Goethe's Faust and Nietzsche's superman, Zarathustra, whose famous cry 'God is dead!' brought home the fact that the old form of God had indeed been lost. Only in the vicissitudes of the twentieth century would the 'world-destroying and world-creating' source of alchemy's dynamic and symbolic projections be rediscovered no longer in matter but in the unconscious psyche. (8)


The 'subjective factor' of the psyche is as a rule completely overlooked, though it conditions all our perception and comprehension. (9) Only when it is disturbed do we notice anything at all. Alchemy developed from a universal disturbance that was common to different people of different ages; what they perceived in the behaviour of matter was something collective and suprapersonal, rooted not in the personal but in the collective unconscious. (10) While projections originating from the personal sphere of the unconscious can with insight become conscious, collective projections from the deeper and more universal layer of the unconscious on the other hand persist through the 'archaic identity' of participation mystique and are largely time-conditioned. (11) More precisely, the term projection only really applies where the possibility of its withdrawl has already arisen, that is when some doubt occurs which begins to push it toward consciousness and thus dissolve the projection. This is where the opus really begins, for, according to the philosophers, 'doubt is the first stage of knowledge.'

The archaic picture mankind originally had of the world was wholly derived from unconscious premises. Staring into the darkness of the night sky, it was not a random distribution of stars that the early astrologer and alchemist saw, but rather the unified vision of the twelve cosmic configurations of the zodiac, by which the great revolution of the year was divided into four seasons of three parts each. Similarly there were four directions, four elements, four qualities (hot, dry, moist and cold) and character was dependent upon the four humours or temperaments. These things appeared to be just-so or self-evident to the archaic mind because of the pre-existence of a uniform or universally occurring principle behind it, namely the archetype of fourfold order, by which in alchemical terms the circle is squared and thereby reduced to order. (12)

Woodcut from the Rosarium philosophorum (1550)

The alchemical quaternity: the masculine three with the crowned virgin (matter) as the fourth

The number four represents a totality, encompassing both man and all creation. Fourfold symbols enjoy universal significance as the natural schema for unified images of heaven, paradise and the godhead. But four also shows a tendency to dissociate into three and one, as for example in the ancient representation of the four sons of Horus, where three have animals' heads and only one a human head. As human consciousness progressed over the centuries this relation of one and three became reversed, so that by the Middle Ages the nature of the 'fourth' had become a complex religious problem. It was in this context that Jung saw the Catholic Church's Declaratio Assumptionis Mariae as a reunion of the three with the 'missing' fourth element, which in contrast to the spiritual and paternal Trinity is physical and feminine. (13)

Jung showed that the problem of the fourth and of the body in general developed in Western alchemy as a compensatory undercurrent to the Christian conflict between the opposites, particularly the moral opposites of good and evil, which ever since the first day of Creation had been rent apart into upper and lower worlds. While the divine Trinity illuminated three quarters of human consciousness, divided darkness covered the lower realm. Alchemy represented the search for the divine spark of God's reflection in the darkness of the lower world, under the motto ascribed in antiquity to Hermes Trismegistus; 'as Above, so Below', a search motivated by the light that shone in Nature, the lumen naturae. As this search lead ultimately to the dawn of science and technology rather than the unconscious source of its motivating projections, it opened up the heretical split between faith and knowledge and engendered the sickness of spiritual alienation and inflated consciousness so characteristic of our age, which afflicts both individual and nation alike with pseudoreligious factional 'isms' and the evil of blind possession. As the power of faith upheld by the Church waned, it was left to psychology to uncover the source of this sickness in modern man, a sickness and distress which Jung argued can only be cured through greater knowledge and individual experience of the hidden numen in our own nature, the numen that, as the uniting medicant, 'heals and makes whole'.

It is significant that many of the most gifted alchemists, like Paraselsus for example, were also prominent physicians of their day, who could not ignore the problem of the fourth and sought to bring about health and longlivety through an all-embracing wholeness of mind and body. This approach was fundamentally at odds with the Christian treatment of the body, which attempted to make a perfect thing of one to the damnation of the other. The alchemists by contrast sought to salvage the body and make peace with it. But the body with which the alchemist worked included far more than what we today understand by the term. As the prima materia, it contained a dual-natured spirit, which could be made volatile by fire and which was no less the spirit Mercurius, the messenger of the gods. (14) Jung interpreted this spirit as the autonomous and ambivalent power of the unconscious psyche, 'caught' as it were in matter and freed from it through an act of conscious intervention. Mercurius imparted to the adept the secret of a uniting medicant produced from two opposing principles, Sol (fire) and Luna (water), first separated from the prima materia and then re-combined in the wonder-working lapis, famously called 'the stone that is no stone'. This stone, rejected as worthless by most, was said to be found in the dungheap, which is precisely where Freud, Jung and other pioneering investigators uncovered the discarded and disreputable psyche at the turn of the twentieth century. (15)


NegredoMylius, Philosophia reformata (1622)

The eclipse of the Sol niger in the negredo. The regenerating tree stump on the right hints at rebirth, "for the corruption of one is the generation of the other, an indication that this death is an interim stage to be followed by a new life." (21)

The opus of alchemy was essentially concerned with the union of opposites of the most extreme kinds, which in the deadly prima materia were perceived to be caught in a black (ie unconscious) state of corruption. This coincided with the dark and confused mental state of the alchemist in the initial stage of the negredo. (16) The general procedure of the opus involved the separation and sublimation of the warring elements contained in the prima materia or massa confusa, typically described in the sixteenth century Gloria Mundi as "familiar to all men...yet despised by all," so that they could be "melted into a unity purified of all opposition and therefore incorruptible," (17) which was itself the gold, or the transformative Elixir or Medicine capable of producing it from imperfect bodies. The stone, the lumen novum, arising from the coniunctio of the reconciled opposites Sol et Luna was personified as the rounded, bisexual Anthropos and proclaimed as the filius macrocosmi, the saviour of the macrocosm and couterpart to Christ. (18)

For the alchemists the paradoxical nature of the filius or lapis mirrored the complexio oppositorum of the godhead itself, and thus elevated the opus into the sphere of divine transformation and revelation of God in and through the prima materia which was both in matter and in man. From the modern point of view of Jungian psychology the opus represents a perception in matter of the process of individuation; the maturation of the whole personality and the synthesis of that unified totality, symbolised by the mandala, which Jung termed the Self. (19) Because the experience of wholeness re-connects the individual with the universal life of the collective unconscious, Jung called the mandala 'a window on eternity', a moment of 'redemption' transcending the ego-personality as the whole transcends the part. Thus we may conclude that in the darkness of unknown matter was played out the strange drama of the soul in search of transformation, and the immortal stone the alchemists sought to realize was in fact the unconscious image of wholeness, the imago Dei in man. (20)

Melt and remould
Mixed metal
Into Gold


1. C G Jung: His Myth in Our Time, M-L von Franz

An Anthropos-image is central to the work of almost all alchemists, a divine or greater man who must be freed from his imprisonment in matter and in darkness; through this work the human liberator at the same time achieved immortality. On the one hand the ideas contained in the Egyptian liturgy of embalming played a conspicuous role in this work, because in this ritual the corpse is transformed by concrete material operations into the god Osiris and thereby identified with him; on the other hand certain gnostic myths were also important, myths which taught that the "divine great man" or "light man," either because he had been seduced by some evil power or other or because he had been drawn down by his own reflection in the depths, had fallen into the darkness of the material world, whence he was calling for help and from which it was the adept's task to free him. (Pages 199-200)

2. In the Old Greek text 'The Prophetess Isis to her Son' (1 ) dating from Hellenistic times, Isis tells her son Horus how she obtained the alchemical secret from an amorous angel, who as a 'messenger of the gods' is the (ithyphallic) Hermes, synonymous with the Latin Mercurius:

Oh, my son, when you desired to go away to fight the treacherous Typhon [ie Seth] over your father's kingdom [the kingdom of Osiris], I went to Hormanouthi, ie Hermaupolis, the town of Hermes, the town of the holy technique of Egypt, and stayed there some time. After a certain passing of the kairoi [astrologically significant moments] and the necessary movement of the heavenly sphere, it happened that one of the angels who dwelt in the first firmament saw me from above and came towards me desiring to unite with me sexually. He was in a great hurry for this to happen, but I did not submit to him. I resisted, for I wished to ask him about the preparation of gold and silver.

3. Alchemy; an Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology, M-L von Franz

The search for immortality was actually the search for an incorruptible essence in man which would survive death, an essential part of the human being which could be preserved. Thus the search for immortality, for the eternal in man, is to be found at the very beginning of alchemy. We can say that the emotional drive and interest in the phenomenon of matter was not a modern scientific interest, in the sense of curiosity as to what matter looked like, but that what gave the impulse and libido for the search to understand the mystery of matter was a real emotional drive and desire to find the immortal part of man. (pages 93-94)

4. Psychology and Alchemy, C G Jung, Collected Works vol. 12

332 Everything unknown and empty is filled with psychological projection; it is as if the investigator's own psychic ground were mirrored in the darkness. What he sees in matter, or thinks he sees, is chiefly the data of his own unconscious which he is projecting into it. In other words, he encounters in matter, as apparently belonging to it, certain qualities and potential meanings of whose psychic nature he is completely unconscious. This is particularly true of classical alchemy, when empirical science and mystical philosophy were more or less undifferentiated.

345 The real nature of matter was unknown to the alchemist: he knew it only in hints. In seeking to explore it he projected the unconscious into the darkness of matter in order to illuminate it. In order to explain the mystery of matter he projected yet another mystery - his own unknown psychic ground - into what was to be explained: Obscurum per obscurius, ignotum per ignotius! This procedure was not, of course, intentional; it was an involuntary occurrence.

346 Strictly speaking, 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. It would therefore be a mistake in my opionion to explain the formula tam ethice quam physice [ethically as well as physically] by the theory of correspondence, and to say that this is its 'cause'. On the contrary, this theory is more likely to be a rationalization of the experience of projection. The alchemist did not practice his art because he believed on theoretical grounds in correspondence; the point is that he had a theory of correspondence because he experienced the presence of pre-existing ideas in physical matter. I am therefore inclined to assume that the real root of alchemy is to be sought less in philosophical doctrines than in the projections of individual investigators. I mean by this that while working on his chemical experiments the operator had certain psychic experiences which appeared to him as the particular behaviour of the chemical process. Since it was a question of projection, he was naturally unconscious of the fact experience had nothing to do with matter itself (that is, with matter as we know it today). He experienced his projection as a property of matter; but what he was in reality experiencing was his own unconscious. In this way he recapitulated the whole history of man's knowldege of nature. As we all know, science began with the stars, and mankind descovered in them the dominants of the unconscious, the "gods," as well as the curious psychological qualities of the zodiac: a complete projected theory of human character. Astrology is a primordial experience similar to alchemy. Such projections repeat themselves whenever man tries to explore an empty darkness and involuntarily fills it with living form.

C G Jung: His Myth in Our Time, M-L von Franz

Inasmuch as the early chemists knew almost nothing about matter as we today understand it and were groping their way in the dark, it is understandable that they filled this darkness with fantasies and with hypthetical models which - as has been the history of every branch of science - later proved to be inadequate or mistaken. Since - right up to Jung's day - alchemy was looked upon merely as a precursor of chemistry, these fantasies were accordingly dismissed as "confused superstitions" or "unscientific fantasies." It is one of Jung's greatest achievements, the significance of which has not yet been adequately recognized, that he rediscovered the projected religious myth of alchemy and showed unmistakably where it originated and where it is still at work today: not in matter but in the objective unconscious psyche of Western man. (pages 200-01)

5. Psychology and Religion: West and East; C G Jung, Collected Works 11

389 Everything which belongs to me bears the stamp of "mineness," that is, it has a subtle identity with my ego. The affinity which all the things bearing the stamp of "mineness" have with my personality is aptly characterized by Lévy-Bruhl (2 ) as participation mystique. It is an irrational, unconscious identity, arising from the fact that anything which comes into contact with me is not only itself, but also a symbol. This symbolization comes about firstly because every human being has unconscious contents, and secondly because every object has an unknown side...Where two unknowns come together, it is impossible to distinguish between them. The unknown in man and the unknown in the thing fall together in one. Thus there arises an unconscious identity which sometimes boarders on the grotesque...So long as they are unconscious our unconscious contents are always projected, and the projection fixes upon everything "ours," inanimate objects as well as animals and people. And to the extent that "our" possessions are projection carriers, they are more than what they are in themselves, and function as such. They have acquired several layers of meaning and are therefore symbolical, though this fact seldom or never reaches consciousness. In reality, our psyche spreads far beyond the confines of the conscious mind, as was apparently known long ago to the old alchemist who said that the soul was for the greater part outside the body.

Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Mircea Eliade

For the "primitives" in general, there is no clear difference between "natural" and "supernatural," between empirical object and symbol. An object becomes "itself" (that is, the carrier of a value) in so far as it participates in a "symbol"; an act acquires meaning in so far as it repeats an archetype. Pg 263 [There is no indication that Eliade is referring specifically to Jung's concept of the archetype in this context.]

6. Alchemical Studies, CW 13

482 Alchemy lost its vital substance when some of the alchemists abandoned the laboratorium for the oratorium, there to befuddle themselves with an ever more nebulous mysticism, while others converted the oratorium into a laboratorium and discovered chemistry. We feel sorry for the former and admire the latter, but no one asks about the fate of the psyche, which thereafter vanished from sight for several hundred years.

7. Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12, para 515

8. Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12

562 In a sense, the old alchemists were nearer to the central truth of the psyche than Faust when they strove to deliver the fiery spirit from the chemical elements, and treated the mystery as though it lay in the dark and silent womb of nature. It was still outside them. The upward thrust of evolving consciousness was bound sooner or later to put an end to the projection, and to restore to the psyche that which had been psychic from the beginning. Yet, ever since the Age of Enlightenment and in the era of scientific rationalism, what indeed was the psyche? It had become synonymous with consciousness. The psyche was "what I know." There was no psyche outside the ego. Inevitably, then, the ego identified with the contents accruing from the withdrawal of projections. Gone were the days when the psyche was still for the most part "outside the body" and imagined "those greater things" which the body could not grasp. The contents that were formerly projected were now bound to appear as personal possessions, as chimerical phantasms of ego-consciousness. The fire chilled to air, and the air became the great wind of Zarathustra and caused and inflation of consciousness which, it seems, can be damped down only by the most terrible catastrophe to civilization, another deluge let loose by the gods upon inhospitable humanity.

564 What we may learn from the models of the past is above all this: that the psyche harbours contents, or is exposed to influences, the assimilation of which is attended by the greatest dangers. If the old alchemists ascribed their secret to matter, and if neither Faust nor Zarathustra is a very encouraging example of what happens when we embody this secret in ourselves, then the only course left to us is to repudiate the arrogant claim of the conscious mind to be the whole of the psyche, and to admit that the psyche is a reality which we cannot grasp with our present means of understanding. I do not call the man who admits his ignorance an obscurantist; I think it is much rather the man whose consciousness is not sufficiently developed for him to be aware of his ignorance.

9. Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12

516 Although there is, materialistically speaking, no prima materia at the root of everything that exists, yet nothing that exists could be discerned were there no discerning psyche. Only by virtue of psychic existence do we have any "being" at all. Consciousness grasps only a fraction of its own nature, because it is the product of a preconscious psychic life which made the development of consciousness possible in the first place. Consciousness always succumbs to the delusion that it developed out of itself, but scientific knowledge is well aware that all consciousness rests on unconscious premises, in other words on a sort of unknown prima materia; and of this the alchemist said everything that we could possibly say about the unconscious.

10. Alchemical Studies, CW 13

11 In order to make this strange fact more intelligible to the reader, it must be pointed out that just as the human body shows a common anatomy over and above all racial differences, so, too, the human psyche possesses a common substratum transcending all differences in culture and consciousness. I have called this substratum the collective unconscious.

11. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i

7 Primitive man is not much interested in objective explanations of the obvious, but he has an imperative need - or rather, his unconscious psyche has an irresistible urge - to assimilate all outer sense experiences to inner, psychic events. It is not enough for the primitive to see the sun rise and set; this external observation must at the same time be a psychic happening: the sun in its course must represent the fate of a god or hero who, in the last analysis, dwells nowhere except in the soul of man. All the mythologized processes of nature, such as summer and winter, the phases of the moon, the rainy season, and so forth, are in no sense allegories of these objective occurrences; rather they are symbolic expressions of the inner, unconscious drama of the psyche which becomes accessible to man's consciousness by way of projection - that is, mirrored in the events of nature. The projection is so fundamental that it has taken several thousand years of civilization to detach it in some measure from its outer object. In the case of astrology, for instance, this age-old "scientia intuitiva" came to be branded as rank heresy because man had not yet succeeded in making the psychological description of character independent of the stars.

Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11

140 Science, curiously enough, began with the discovery of astronomical laws, and hence with the withdrawl, so to speak, of the most distant projections. This was the first stage in the despiritualization of the world. One step followed another: already in antiquity the gods were withdrawn from mountains and rivers, from trees and animals.

The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i

50 Only an unparalleled impoverishment of symbolism could enable us to rediscover the gods as psychic factors, that is, as archetypes of the unconscious...Since the stars have fallen from heaven and our highest symbols have paled, a secret life holds sway in the unconscious. That is why we have a psychology today, and why we speak of the unconscious. All this would be quite superfluous in an age or culture that possessed symbols. Symbols are spirits from above, and under those conditions the spirit is above too. Therefore it would be a foolish and senseless undertaking for such people to wish to experience or investigate an unconscious that contains nothing but the silent, undisturbed sway of nature. Our unconscious, on the other hand, hides living water, spirit that has become nature, and that is why it is disturbed.

12. Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11

246 The quaternity is an archetype of almost universal occurrence. It forms the logical basis for a whole judgment. If one wishes to pass such a judgment, it must have this fourfold aspect. For instance, if you want to describe the horizon as a whole, you name the four quarters of heaven. Three is not a natural coefficient of order, but an artifical one. There are four elements, four prime qualities, four colours, four castes, four ways of spiritual development in Buddhism, etc. so, too, there are four aspects of psychological orientation, beyond which nothing fundamental remains to be said. In order to orient ourselves, we must have a function which ascertains that something is there (sensation); a second function which establishes what it is (thinking); a third function which states whether it suits us or not, whether we wish to accept it or not (feeling); and a fourth function which indicates where it came from and where it is going (intuition). When this has been done, there is nothing more to say. Schopenhauer proves that the "Principle of Sufficient Reason" has a fourfold root. This is so because the fourfold aspect is the minimum requirement for a complete judgment. The ideal of completeness is the circle or sphere, but its natural minimal division is a quaternity.

13. Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11

124 It was, indeed, a great problem to the Middle Ages, this problem of the Trinity and the exclusion, or the very qualified recognition, of the feminine element, of the earth, the body, and matter in general, which were yet, in the form of Mary's womb, the sacred abode of the Deity and the indispensable instrument for the divine work of redemption...It was the first intimation of a possible solution of the devastating conflict between matter and spirit, between the desires of the flesh and the love of God.

14. The ancestry of this spirit may go back to the universal figure of the therianthrophic Shamanic spirit guide, a half-animal, half-human being whose recorded genealogy has been traced to Palaeolithic cave paintings tens of thousands of years old. Cf. The Strong Eye of Shamanism, Robert Ryan page 55, showing the 'Sorcerer' of Les Trois Frères Cave in southern France.

15. Mysterium Coniunctionis, CW 14

791 The cheap, unseemly substance, which, rejected by all, [is today found] rather in the distressing darkness of the human psyche, which [has] become accessible to clinical observation. There alone [can] be found all those contradictions, those grotesque phantasms and scurrilous symbols which had fascinated the mind of the alchemists and confused them as much as illuminated them. And the same problem presents itself to the psychologist that had kept the alchemists in suspense for seventeen hundred years: what was he to do with these antagonistic forces? Could he throw them out and get rid of them? Or had he to admit their existence, and is it our task to bring them into harmony and, out of the multitude of contradictions, produce a unity, which naturally will not come of itself, though it may - Deo Concedente - with human effort?

16. The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16

383 Once an unconscious content is constellated, it tends to [create], through projection, an atmosphere of illusion...The situation is enveloped in a kind of fog, and this fully accords with the nature of the unconscious content: It is a "black blacker than black" (nigrum, nigrius nigro), as the alchemists rightly say, and in addition is charged with dangerous polar tensions, with the inimicitia elementorum. One finds oneself in an impenetrable chaos, which is indeed one of the synonyms for the mysterious prima materia. The latter corresponds to the nature of the unconscious content in every respect, with one exception: this time it does not appear in the alchemical substance but in man himself...Hunted for centuries and never found, the prima materia or lapis philosophorum is, as a few alchemists rightly suspected, to be discovered in man himself. But it seems that this content can never by found and integrated directly, but only by the circuitous route of projection. For as a rule the unconscious first appears in projected form.

17. Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12, para. 43

18. Alchemical Studies, CW 13

157 The alchemical operation consisted essentially in separating the prima materia, the so-called chaos, into the active principle, the soul, and the passive principle, the body, which were then reunited in personified form in the coniunctio or "chymical marriage." In other words, the coniunctio was allegorized as the hieros gamos, the ritual cohabitation of Sol et Luna. From this union sprang the filius sapientiae or filius philosophorum, the transformed Mercurius, who was thought of as hermaphroditic in token of his rounded perfection.

Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11

748 It is psychologically significant for our day that in the year 1950 the heavenly bride was united with the bride-groom...The nupital union in the thalamus (bridal-chamber) signifies the hieros gamos, and this in turn is the first step towards incarnation, towards the birth of the saviour who, since antiquity, was thought of as the filius solis et lunae, the filius sapientiae, and the equivalent of Christ. When, therefore, a longing for the exaltation of the Mother of God passes through the people, this tendency, if thought to its logical conclusion, means the desire for the birth of a saviour, a peacemaker...Although he is already born in the pluroma, his birth in time can only be accomplished when it is perceived, recognized, and declared by man.

19. Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11

755 The dogmatization of the Assumptio Mariae points to the hieros gamos in the pleroma, and this in turn implies, as we have said, the future birth of the divine child, who, in accordance with the divine trend towards incarnation, will choose as his birthplace the empirical man. The metaphysical process is known to the psychology of the unconscious as the individuation process. In so far as this process, as a rule, runs its course unconsciously as it has from time immemorial, it means no more than that the acorn becomes an oak, the calf the cow, and the child an adult. But if the individuation process is made conscious, consciousness must confront the unconscious and a balance between the opposites must be found. As this is not possible through logic, one is dependent on symbols which make the irrational union of opposites possible. They are produced spontaneously by the unconscious and are amplified by the conscious mind. The central symbols of this process describe the self, which is man's totality, consisting on the one hand of that which is conscious to him, and on the other hand of the contents of the unconscious. The self is the whole man, whose symbols are the divine child and its synonyms. This is only a very summary sketch of the process, but it can be observed at any time in modern man, or one can read about it in the documents of Hermetic philosophy from the Middle Ages. The parallelism between the symbols is astonishing to anyone who knows both the psychology of the unconscious and alchemy.

756 The difference between the "natural" individuation process, which runs its course unconsciously, and the one which is consciously realized, is tremendous. In the first case consciousness nowhere intervenes; the end remains as dark as the beginning. In the second case so much darkness comes to light that the personality is permeated with light, and consciousness necessarily gains in scope and insight. The encounter between conscious and unconscious has to ensure that the light which shines in the darkness is not only comprehended by the darkness, but comprehends it. The filius solis et lunae is the symbol of the union of opposites as well as the catalyst of their union. It is the alpha and omega of the process, the mediator and intermedius. "It has a thousand names," say the alchemists, meaning that the source from which the individuation process rises and the goal towards which it aims is nameless, ineffable.

The Practice of Psychotherapy, CW 16

474 The union of the conscious mind or ego-personality with the unconscious...produces a new personality compounded of both. Not that the new personality is a third thing midway between conscious and unconscious, it is both together. Since it transcends consciousness it can no longer be called "ego" but must be given the name of "self"...The self is both ego and non-ego, subjective and objective, individual and collective. It is the "uniting symbol" which epitomizes the total union of opposites. As such and in accordance with its paradoxical nature, it can only be expressed by means of symbols.

20. Psychology and Religion: West and East, CW 11

221 If we perseveringly and consistently follow the way of natural development, we arrive at the experience of the self, and at the state of being simply what one is. This is expressed as an ethical demand by the motto of Paracelsus..."Alterius non sit, qui suus esse potest" (That man no other man shall own, / Who to himself belongs alone) - a motto both characteristically Swiss and characteristically alchemical. But the way to this goal is toilsome and not for all to travel. "Est longissima via," say the alchemists. We are still only at the beginning of a development whose oringins lie in late antiquity, and which throughout the Middle Ages led little more than a hole-and-corner existence, vegetating in obscurity and represented by solitary eccentrics who were called, not without reason, tenebriones. Nevertheless men like Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, and Paracelsus were among the fathers of modern science, and their spirit did much to shake the authority of the "total" church. Our modern psychology grew out of the spirit of natural science and, without realizing it, is carrying on the work begun by the alchemists. These men were convinced that the donum artis was given only to the few electis, and today our experience shows us only to plainly how arduous is the work...and how few can attain the necessary knowledge and experience.

233 The goal of psychological, as of biological, development is self-realization, or individuation. But since man knows himself only as an ego, and the self, as a totality, is indescribable and indistinguishable from a God-image, self-realization - to put it in religious or metaphysical terms -amounts to God's incarnation. That is already expressed in the fact that Christ is the son of God...The self is no mere concept or logical postulate; it is a psychic reality, only part of it conscious, while for the rest it embraces the life of the unconscious and is therefore inconceivable except in the form of symbols. The drama of the archetypal life of Christ describes in symbolic images the events in the conscious life - as well as in the life that transcends consciousness - of a man who has been transformed by his higher destiny.

21. The Practice of Psychotherapy: CW 16, para. 467


1. In the Codex Marcianus, 11 (th ) cent. Venice. Quoted from M-L von Franz: Alchemy, an Introduction to the Symbolism and Psychology (page 44)

2. Lévy-Bruhl: How Natives Think. London, 1926