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by Paul Levy

Much to his astonishment, C. G. Jung discovered that the ancient science of alchemy was describing, in symbolic language, the journey that all of us must take towards our own intrinsic whole-ness. To quote Jung, "the entire alchemical procedure..could just as well represent the individuation process of a single individual." The alchemical gold that is the goal of the "magnum opus," or "great work" of alchemy is not a material substance, but is a new and expanded consciousness.

This gold, which in alchemy is referred to as the lapis, or philosophers stone, comes out of fully embracing what the alchemists called the "prima materia," the rejected and despised part of the psyche. We typically want to get rid of these shadow aspects of our personality, but the alchemists understood that our wounded and unconscious parts aren't an accident or error, and that without them there would be no way of making the alchemical gold.

One of the key things that is needed for successful alchemy is a closed and air-tight hermetic vessel, or container, which is able to withstand the pressure needed for the transformation of the prima materia. If we try to escape the pain and frustration of our existential situation by always trying to find a means of escape, we are like a squirrel running around in a cage, and our suffering is totally neurotic and unproductive. But if we are able to hold the powerful psychic energies that get constellated when we go inwards, and try to consciously explore the meaning of the experience, genuine transformation occurs. With a good container, the endless circling, instead of leaking outwards, becomes a spiral and leads ever deeper into the unconscious, where it activates the latent creative source at its center.

 Understanding what alchemy is about can deeply help us on our own unique journey of healing and awakening. To quote Jung, "I am, therefore, inclined to suppose that the true root of to be sought in certain experiences of projection of the individual researchers..The real nature of matter was unknown to the alchemist; he knew it only in hints. Inasmuch as he tried to explore it he projected the unconscious into the darkness of matter in order to illuminate it....While working on his chemical experiments the operator had certain psychic experiences which appeared to him as the particular behavior of the chemical process. Since it was a question of projection, he was naturally unconscious of the fact that the experience had nothing to do with matter itself. He experienced his projection as a property of matter, but what he was in reality experiencing was his own unconscious."

 This is a situation that, to again quote Jung, "serves as a bridge, binding psychic and material events into one, so that "what is within is also without." This is experientially the same as waking up and becoming lucid inside of a dream, recognizing that the entire dreamscape is nothing other than our own energy.

 The point is that we are all alchemists, and "the darkness of matter," that we are  projecting our unconscious into is the universe itself. Ultimately, we ourselves are the hermetic vessel, and all the parts of ourselves which we have projected out into the seemingly outside world must be recognized, collected and gathered into the wholeness of the psyche. As Jung points out, this is to truly offer ourselves in divine service, as a conduit for the incarnating Godessence, which is what the individuation process is all about.

For more articles about dreaming, see