My Alchemical Spiritual Journey
This article was drawn from a paper I wrote in 2006 for a PHD program.
Most people begin their spiritual journey by picking a book from a shelf, or a loved one dies, triggering the cosmic questions of life and death, or a crisis of life pain challenges them. The limiting boundaries of self-definition don’t heal the pain felt by the psyche and the body when confronted with these cosmic questions. Instead, these events may precipitate the propelling energy, the alchemical fire, for spiritual transformation. Alchemical fire motivates the expansion of our conscious awareness. Alice Bailey wrote, “The development of the human being is but the passing from one state of consciousness to another. It is the progressing from consciousness polarized in the personality, lower Self, or body, to that polarized in the Higher Self, Ego, or Soul, thence to a polarization in the Monad, or Spirit, till the consciousness eventually is Divine.” (Bailey, 1970, 7)
The Western spiritual seeker becomes a wanderer. The seeker reads spiritual genre books and goes to metaphysical classes. There is shyness away from a spiritual teacher or guru because of the stigma of past abuses and the critical judgment of peers. A schizophrenic life is led where the authentic questing Self gets cut off from the secular Self. The spiritual path becomes self-directed. At a conscious level, we don’t know where we are going. There is no road map or project plan to spiritual transformation, and we are reluctant to ask for directions. An unguided, self-directed spiritual path can lead to self-manifested ‘dead ends.’ The spiritual seeker will relegate their spiritual authority to an entity that purports to have all the answers to their cosmic questions. This entity created Illusion can be so powerful that no movement on the spiritual journey is made until the Soul creates a ‘cosmic two by four’ to show the false nature of the ‘dead end.’ The conscious mind creates the ‘dead end’ to protect it from the pain and fear of an expanding awareness.
My journey began when I was 17 years old with a book of poetry, a book on reincarnation and a physics class. In physics class I learned that energy was neither created nor destroyed but changed form. As a nurse’s aide I learned that an electro-cardiogram measured the electrical activity of the heart. Knowing this law of physics the experience of a patient’s death left me with an experience of mystery and wonder. Where did the energy that made the heart beat go upon death? In Arkansas at that time answers were not easily available. Then I happened upon two books that created more questions; Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet and a book by Edgar Cayce on reincarnation. The question of ‘Who am I and why am I here?’ haunted me, and when the pain of a life crisis left me fragile and vulnerable those questions pounded away at my psyche. I could not see the answers. Without answers I plunged into a Dark Night of the Soul that lasted for 28 years.
In the summer of 2006 I was introduced to the concept of alchemy as a spiritual path to transformation and realized that the foundation of this philosophy was a road map to spiritual transformation. Alchemy identifies the stages of our psyche as we expand our awareness. It defines the psychological, metaphysical and physical changes spiritual transformation can bring.
Alchemy is the science of change. Alchemical change is described in language used by the medieval alchemist to describe the study and work done in the alchemist laboratory with earth, air, fire, water. Dirk Gillabel writes “Alchemy is about the discovery of the spiritual nature of man, of nature and of the cosmos, and especially about one’s own development”. (Gillabel, 2003, 1) Alchemy derived its origins from ancient Egypt, where it was associated with the worship of Thoth, who became Hermes in ancient Greece and Mercury in Rome. (Hamilton, 1985, 1) The alchemist’s quest was one of self-development, attempting to integrate the many facets of personality to attain psychic wholeness. Alchemical study, exploration and experimentation led to the development of an approach to our consciousness evolution that was couched in hidden and arcane symbolism.
Alchemical philosophy reflects different approaches to the concept of spiritual transformation. These branches of alchemy project a different sequencing of processes and quantity of steps needed for spiritual transformation. The four steps of Nigredo, Albedo, Cintrinatas and Rubedo reflects the path of spiritual transformation that has paralleled my experiences. Lynne Victoria Lee Ehlers asserts “C. G. Jung believed the work of the alchemists was a metaphor for the process of individuation, and that these four colors, black, white, yellow and red, termed after their Latin alchemical equivalents, Nigredo, Albedo, Citrinitas and Rubedo respectively, represented stages of psychological development”. (Ehlers, 1993, 1)
Nigredo is also called the Blackening. In alchemical language this is the time of the Earth; a time of going into the darkness of one’s being, putrefaction and rebirth of the planted seed of our Essence. One enters this stage of the spiritual journey via the path of pain and introspection. This stage of the alchemical transformation is marked by entering the Dark Night of the Soul. The darkness of this journey is going into the cave of the unconscious. Nigredo leads you to the shadow side of your nature which may reflect self-esteem issues, fears, aggression, anger, grief, jealousy or bitterness. These are attachments in the consciousness that is dying. This is the stage where you are united with your Earth nature. (Hamilton, 1985, 5) You are burnt, blackened, by a slow fire of anger. The anger is turned inward and becomes depression. There is an inward struggle for which it seems there are no answers. This is a place of chaos and often madness. You are haunted by the questions: ‘Who am I? Why did this happen? Why am I here?’ The silence that follows the cosmic screaming of these questions can lead some to wanting ‘out’.
The dream and physical state during this period may reflect the fears held in the shadow nature. Fear based beliefs are housed in the body. For example: grief shows up in the lungs as bronchitis, pneumonia, etc. Dreams in the Nigredo stage may reflect frequent nightmares. The unconscious is bringing the fears held in the psyche into awareness via the nightmare dreams.
As the work of the calcining fire burns, the first alchemical death occurs and the phase of putrefaction begins. This is a transformation into a new state of expression. The grip on the values that shaped reality is loosened. The value of material possessions and limiting beliefs dissolve. Personal truths that shaped the ego shift into a new definition. Spirit-centered awareness replaces self-pity, self-indulgence, and self-centeredness. A new type of relationship evolves with the Earth and people.
I entered the Nigredo stage at age 21 when after 18 months of marriage I was getting a divorce. The divorce triggered a crisis of values. There was a need for me to come to a place of reconciliation between ‘who I am versus who I was’, which led me into my own Dark Night of the Soul. I spent 28 years searching for a place of balance, often I tipped over that razor’s edge.
I studied spiritual writings and meditated. The meditation brought me temporary relief from the migraines that plagued me. The study would give me momentary peace. I was constantly in an internal crisis of trying to be who I thought I had to be and I was always wrong. The relationships in my life during that period of time reflected the belief that I was never going to be good enough no matter how hard I tried. This led to depression, grief and pain. During this entire period of time I had a repeating dream many times a week of a dark figure standing over me with a threatening stance. I would awake screaming.
My physical state hung in the balance between frequent migraines and weeks of bronchitis. I clung tightly to my limiting beliefs and values because they were all I knew, until I reached a place where I needed to decide whether to live or die. That choice led me to a retreat in the Oregon Cascades that was off the grid and raised its own food. I brought myself into communion with the Mother Earth. I sat in the woods and by the river to heal. That experience away gave me a new definition of how to be in the world and the ability to move to the next stage of alchemical spiritual transformation.
Albedo, the second stage, is also called the Whitening. In alchemical language this is the stage of the moon; the watery and reflective feminine nature within. It is where you begin to question your life purpose. There is a further breaking down of the self- manifested reality. The illusion of being in control is weakened so that you can experience what has been hidden in the psyche. Thoughts are now self-examined for their honesty and integrity.
The intuitive nature forced into hiding by parents, churches, schools and society is reclaimed. The societal bondage that held your true nature hostage is cleared. All dissociated parts of the personality are reclaimed into a wholeness of being. There may be a separation from family and friends when the reclamation of your authentic nature becomes fearful to their paradigm of reality. A greater inner reality grows in the inner planes of awareness. The world is seen through a lens that reflects the wisdom of the Soul.
The process of the merging of the Higher Self and Ego begin. The personality egoic Self meets the Beloved of the Higher Self and falls in love. The Ego yields willingly to the Lover after a period of ‘getting to know each other’. During this transition physical experiences of extreme fluctuations of energy may result. The body may have surges of heat and then cold. These fluctuations of hot and cold energy are part of the purification process where chemical toxins and limiting beliefs are brought to the surface of consciousness so they can be cleared. Changes in the body’s vibrational state result as toxins are cleared.
The white kundalini energy begins to rise at this stage and will cause the breaking apart of energetic blocks held in the body, causing the cells to feel as if they are in an extreme state of agitation. The body releases these blocks as the kundalini flows through the energy channels and when it hits a block the result may be a small sharp stabbing pain. Kundalini movement is not localized to a leg or arm. It is all over the body all at once. The flow of the kundalini energy may cause a sense of anxiety or nervousness.
Fears become amplified. This is a time when there is a need to withdraw. The bodies (emotional, mental, physical and energy) feel raw, fragile and vulnerable. The senses reach a state of hypersensitivity.
I entered this stage while sitting in the woods at the retreat in the Oregon Cascades. A woman appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to give me a book by Robert Johnson called Balancing Heaven and Earth. I did not know this woman and she just as quickly disappeared from my life. Johnson was one of the first Jungian- trained psychologists. This book told me that I could live by being in the flow of life or I could kill myself by trying to turn the river around to go the other direction. This book invited me to enter the waters of life, the divine feminine, to live my life in a very different way. (It wasn’t until I started writing this paper that I made the connection that Jung taught his view of alchemy to Johnson and this was a stage in my spiritual growth.)
Over the next several years my physical body recovered its natural state of health and my dreams of the dark figure disappeared. I was happy and not trying to force my way through life. My spiritual studies took a new turn and I moved into becoming a healer for myself and others. I cleared the limiting beliefs as they arose in my life. My energy bodies began to evolve. As the different layers of my bodies became clear of the dense energy of limiting beliefs and toxins the kundalini energy began to move and continued the process of clearing. I began the emergence process of bringing the Higher Self into union with the personality Ego self. While walking the labyrinth in Chartres, I made the vow to completely surrender to the emergence process.
My intuitive awareness continued to expand as I reclaimed that aspect of my nature. The accuracy of intuitive information became progressively higher and finer in detail as limiting beliefs were cleared. Once I entered the place of starting the process of union with my Higher Self, intuitive information began to be Soul-focused and multi-dimensional.
Upon my return from Chartres, France in July, I had several dreams that reflected the spiritual transformations that were underway. In the following days there was a dream of a man killing his wife and child in an elevator that was going up. An interpretation of this dream would be that there was a completion of one phase on the journey of spiritual transformation. On that same night, I dreamed of being pregnant. The pregnancy could be interpreted as meaning that I was pregnant with that next level of spiritual transformation. The two dreams brought messages of birth and death; a new beginning and a completion. Then there followed a dream of a lone bird in the sky flying. The lone bird suddenly became hundreds of birds flying in different directions. I interpreted that dream to mean that my spiritual awareness would affect many others.
Emotionally, I experienced the need to withdraw. It was painful and overwhelming to be in large crowds of people. I moved more into a world of inner creation; spending more time in silence and less time finding out what is going on in the world.
Citrinitas, the third stage, is also called the Yellowing. In alchemical language this is the stage of the sun; the solar light. Nigel Hamilton refers to this as the light that awakens a sense of revelation and revelatory knowledge. It is the stage where the calcining fire is much brighter. This is the stage where there is a removal of the watery elements of personality; flexibility, fluidity, agility, gentleness, accommodating, sensitive, understanding, and kindness. (Hamilton, 1985, 7)
According to Nigel Hamilton at the beginning of this stage you will experience physical symptoms as if you had been walking in a desert: weakness, difficulty breathing and a throat that feels like it is on fire. The Self is dying. If you feel the fire within you, then there is fantastic energy. (Hamilton, 2002, 9) At this stage there is a death to the dualistic view that the person is a separate self. You are left in a state of pure spirit, pure intelligence, beyond space, time and form without a consciousness of body or mind. (Hamilton, 1985, 7) There is an opening to multi-dimensional compassion, where the rippled effects of a single act are seen in one moment. The web of human consciousness is apparent and reflects the oneness of our nature. You operate from the psychic level. The mystical becomes the reality. This signals the rebirth. There is a focus on a heavenly love. There is an inner knowing that comes from direct revelation. The sense of revelation and prophecy is awakened. Open-eyed visions of an alternate future reality super-imposed into the now may be experienced. The inner planes are experienced as light instead of darkness.
According to Nigel Hamilton this is a place of instability and the alchemist must incarnate into form for this stage to be fixed. (Hamilton, 1985, 7) There are traps at this stage that can halt you in your spiritual transformation. The visual phenomena of the mystical can block progress. You can no longer separate yourself from the experiences and there is a loss of objectivity.
In many analyses of alchemy Citrinitas was left out as a specific stage of alchemical transformation. For me, Citrinitas has manifested as a bridge between the Albedo and Rubedo stages. The personal experience of this stage is unsettling and at times physically uncomfortable. My body on some days feels a dry internal fire. There is a removal of the water from my being. There are times when the heat inside of me burns off the water faster than I can drink it. There is a dark light when entering the inner planes instead of the velvety darkness. There is a sense of disconnection from everyone around me. People will talk to me in the same room and I do not feel that they are in my reality. Out in nature the landscape is sometimes a shimmering energy instead of defined forms.
Rubedo, the fourth stage, is also called the Reddening. In alchemical terms this is the stage of coagulation. Coagulation is the total fusion between spirit and matter. It is the state of enlightened consciousness. This is the culmination in the process of individuation where the parts of the whole become indivisible. The transformations experienced in the prior stages are permanent.
At this stage you are incarnated in an earth body that is a body of light. This is the place where the Soul’s essence is experienced. Seamlessly life is lived in accordance with the authentic Self. All of life is now joyous.
Rubedo is the place of the fourth chakra or the heart. The Reddening is the color of blood. It is the color of life lived. The heart becomes the bridge between heaven and earth. The heart brings the color of compassion to all things. There is a continual state of being in love and being the embodiment of love. It is an all encompassing love where there is no differentiation between the female and male. This is the divine state of the union of opposites. The masculine is dissolved into the feminine.
This is the time of being reborn into life. The Soul wants to be reborn to the earth to experience spiritual freedom. This is the stage at which the four different matrix patterns of the divine human are stabilized. Nigel Hamilton writes “God awakens through the form of the divine human”. (Hamilton, 2002, 10)
This is the stage of consciously connecting with Spirit, releasing the light within matter, and releasing the boundaries between inner and outer experience. The philosopher’s stone is realized as the reddening turns into gold. A divine flow of creation and knowledge is experienced in every moment of this stage as connection is made with your Higher Self, Divinity and Earth. Also at this stage, there is an accelerated experience of synchronicities. (McBride, 2006, 1)
While writing this essay a dark red rose in my garden called to me. Its color is the color of dark blood and its fragrance is that of the angels. I went down to the garden and cut the single blood red rose and brought it to my study and placed in it in a bouquet of pale peach colored roses. Nigel Hamilton says that the appearance of blood red flowers in your life indicate you are entering the rubedo. (Hamilton, 2002, 9)
Incarnating into time-consciousness means entering the dimension of evolutionary change of form. The disincarnate Self represents compartmentalization of identity and experience that, according to alchemy, does not evolve. Evolution can only happen through the incarnate mind and body. The Soul’s longing for the light moves it back into the dimension of change, material and time, repeating the process until the alchemical cycle of fire, rebirth, and the union of transformation is completed.
Bailey, Alice A. Initiation, Human and Solar. Lucis Publishing Company, New York, New York 1974
Ehlers, Lynne Victoria Lee. The Alchemical Nigredo, Albedo, Citrinitas and Rubedo Stages of Transformation: A Case Study. Berkeley, California 1993. Available From http://www.levity.com/alchemy/phd-a-h.html. Accessed 07 September 2006.
Gillabel, Dirk. Alchemy. Woodstock, New York 2003. Available from http://www.Soul-guidance.com/houseofthesun/alchemyintro.htm. Accessed 07
Hamilton, Nigel. Alchemy and Dreams. Camp Zenith, Oklahoma 2002. Available from http://www.sufismus.ch/omega_dream/dreams.pdf. Accessed 07 September 2006.
——–. The Alchemical Process of Transformation. London, United Kingdom 1985. Available from http://www.sufismus.ch/omega_dream/dreams.pdf. Accessed 07 September 2006.
McBride, Abigal Spinner and McBride, Jeff Magnus. Universal Fire Alchemy. Artemas, Pennsylvania 2006. Available from http://www.4qf.org/_FiresRising/_alchemy.htm Accessed 07 September 2006