Sunday, July 17, 2011


The alchemy of mixing, blending, cooking

Hints of symbolic alchemical processes are visible in the Temperance card of Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness. A luminous figure appears to be “cooking” in a kind of transparent retort. Here the symbols of alchemy are not about making gold, but of distilling the spiritual “Gold” of ourselves—the Golden Elixir of Life. 

Two historical concepts are connected to alchemy: first, we’ve heard of the centuries-old early attempts to transmute base metals into gold using combinations of mercury, sulphur and salt. It seems that, over time, these medieval experiments have evolved into modern chemistry and metallurgy. Today, in an interesting side-note, mercury is used to separate gold from rock, a process that is endangering small-scale miners who inhale the toxic vapors, and is poisoning the environment. (See the National Geographic, “The Price of Gold,” January 2009.)

The other concept follows a more spiritual and psychological approach to alchemical symbols, as explored by Carl Jung and Maria von Franz, which is about achieving an inner spiritual transformation of the self. We are working on perfecting ourselves on the path to cosmic selfhood. “…alchemy is really a work one has to do on one’s own personality and is not just something one does by mixing things in the retort.” (Maria von Franz, Alchemical Active Imagination (Spring Publications, 1979).

What are we mixing, blending and cooking in ourselves throughout a lifetime? We are trying to understand ourselves spiritually and psychologically by evaluating our experiences and actions: our childhood, our relationships, our visions and dreams, in order to be the best that we can be. The key words for Temperance are: doing everything in thoughtful moderation and avoiding extremist views and attitudes. It’s going down the middle road and being careful about what you “cook up.” In earlier decks, Temperance is illustrated with an angel pouring a liquid equally from two vases. Some Tarot writers interpret this as combing the elements of the four suits of Tarot: Wands-motivation; Cups-emotion; Swords-intellect; and Pentacles-manifestation. There is a tone of balance and reconciliation in this card related to the Justice card. It applies to mediators, reconcilers and negotiators in finding solutions to conflicting situations. A “pay it forward” touch is also implied, of sharing one’s bounty, and overcoming selfish motives.

Adam McLean writes extensively on all phases of alchemy on his website. He says, “The tradition of interior development in alchemy is pursued by mirroring the transformations and processes of alchemy with our Soul…any symbol held in our consciousness is manifested as an electro-chemical plexus in the neuron net of our brain.” (“The Alchemical Vessel as a Symbol of the Soul”) The actions of calcination, dissolution, separation, incineration and fermentation, used to describe the alchemical process, are symbolic of the work we are doing to transform ourselves. At times we have been “turned to stone,” “dissolved in tears;” and “distanced ourselves.” We have “jumped from the frying pan into the fire, and” have been “frozen in fear,” all the while having been “steeped in misery.” Sound familiar?

Manly Hall quotes an old German alchemist's prayer in The Secret Teachings of All Ages (Philosophical Research Society, 1962) “…rising through His assistance out of the dust and ashes and changing into spiritual body of rainbow colors like unto the transparent, crystal-like paradisiacal gold…that my own nature may be redeemed and purified before me in these glasses and bottles.”

We see the darker side of the outgrowth of alchemy on a massive scale in the modern day retort for the transmutation of matter—the nuclear reactor—in nuclear fission, which has resulted in “weapons of mass destruction,” atomic bombs, and nuclear warheads. Alchemists may have occasionally blown up themselves and their equipment, but when we look at the results of the reactor meltdowns at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and, currently, Fukashima, we must seriously reconsider our motivation for fiddling with such radioactive materials, and stick to working on bettering ourselves and our relationships to the nations of the world.

When Temperance comes up in a reading it’s time to put the brakes on, stay cool, and realistically assess what you are doing, and what you are saying; tempering yourself with wisdom and restraint; and most of all, avoiding extremes.