The Alchemical Worldview

Esoterically the central task of the human being is to achieve what is known as the second birth, or what is known to students of Rudolf Steiner as the birth of the “I” being. Our first birth is into a body of flesh. This is given to us by nature working through our parents. The body of flesh is governed by the laws of nature and returns to nature when we die. This is the natural way of things. Alchemists, however, know of another birth, one which is as they say, a work against nature(opus contra naturam). In the second birth a spiritual embryo is fertilized and then brought to term by the conscious working of the student. This spiritual embryo is known as the “I” being or the True Self or “the parent who would never lie to us”. These names all relate to functions of a being who resides hidden in human consciousness when we are not fully awake, and is only discovered by conscious willfull acts and rhythmical practices. The “I” being is the one in us who says “I”. No other being can do this for us. The experience of saying “I” about ourselves is a seed like force hidden within the soul of every human being. It is seed like because of its great potential for development. When we work to experience this “I” being it is like having a conception and pregnancy within the personality. In order to fertilize and bring the “I” to birth, the student must develop capacities which go against the natural or instinctual patterning in the body of flesh and in the psychological patterning of the personality. This is the work against nature.

In many traditions this work is what is known as mystery training. The work against nature simply means to overcome, through a deeper perception of the “I” the limitations imposed on the soul by the laws governing the working of the body of flesh. The work against nature it is not meant to desecrate nature, it is just that the true human being, the “I”, is not really a product of nature. The “I” is a spiritual being who is invisible and stands within the human being as a being whose impulses are in an antagonistic relationship with the forces of nature as they are found within the body. This antagonism of the spirit and the body must be tempered into a mood of co-creation with the hierarchies who stand behind nature if the human “I” is to be a truly a creative being in the future. This tempering or“alchemical marriage” is not so simple nor is it without dire implications. Since it is a difficult and dangerous thing to do, the spirits who guide humanity have provided teachers who since the most ancient times have served as human guides for aspirants to the mystery trainings. Some of these guides have been in the human form as the great teachers of the mysteries. Others have been beings who inhabit other, more archetypal planes of existence than the human being. These teachers or guardians serve to help humans to walk the dangerous path of self awareness from instinctual patterning towards their “I”. To do this work against nature an alchemist must study nature in a systematic, yet humble and caring way.

Alchemy is the study of how to dialogue with the beings who stand behind nature as archetypes of substances which are found in the manifest world. When an alchemist is successful in harmonizing his or her mental state with a particular archetypal being the lesson of the being is given to the alchemist as an insight into how totransform a particular substance. The substance is considered to be the rubric of a process in nature that has some significance to the alchemist emotionally. The substance is known as a sign or cipher. The sign has a specific relationship to a specific challenge or dilemma hidden in the soul of the alchemist. The being of the spiritual archetype standing behind the substance can approach the soul of the alchemist with an insight when the alchemist has sufficiently prepared his/her soul through inner thought purification. These activities of transforming the lower impulses by realizing theactivity of the “I” constitute “the work”. An alchemist understands that any work on oneself is also a work on nature and that as an adept (variously known as student, artist, philosopher), it is possible to transform nature in more efficient ways than are available to persons who were not undertaking the work of the alchemical marriage. The archetypal beings who stand as guardians of the secrets of nature provide visual images for the education of striving esoteric students. These are primarily dream images which come to the worker or “artist” when the proper stage of inner purity had been reached. The dream images need to be transformed into the language of the day awake state in order for them to be effective. This transformation is the purpose of this book.

In the alchemical tradition in the past, the artist /student/philosopher was charged with the vow of secrecy in order that the sublime secrets given by the archetypes did not fall too early into the unpurified consciousnessof the student. It was felt that if the secrets were given to unprepared minds insanity or a great inflation accompanied by a lust for power could be the result. The alchemist might then become a sorcerer or magician and stray from the narrow path of humble dialogue with, and service to, with the guardians and archetypes which stand behind substances. Over time the techniques of the masters were passed on through symbolic maps and charts which enabled the alchemist to journey through the dangerous places and achieve the work without the danger of revealing the secrets too early. This precaution was the reason that so many of the manuscripts were arcane and seemingly written by unbalanced persons. It was generally understood that any formula that you received from another contained an error purposely put there so that you had to do the work again yourself. The thought was that if you wished to get into the secret places then you must do it slowly and thoroughly and with a mood of reverence for the mystery beings standing behind the phenomena in the laboratory. An old alchemical mantra states that you must be able to act without expecting any results. This was known as “work and pray”

In each person the task of bringing the shadow side and the awake side into relationship was what Jung called “individuation”. This task involves several stages of “work” if it is to be accomplished harmoniously. To begin with the unawake side of the psyche was known as the prima materia or first material. This was considered to be an uneasy mix of awake and unconscious impulses. The first task of the soul alchemist was to render these two states more accessible to the understanding. Since the awake state is the only place where human beings can gain understanding it is the first and most essential task of humans who wish to individuate to separate from the “community”. This is because the awake state is driven by the unique capacities of the higher consciousness that have to do with the unique destiny of the individual as opposed to the more collective capacities of the collective consciousness that forms the morays and folkways of traditional culture.

In short this involves separating the three soul forces of thinking, feeling and willing so that they begin to operate independently within the individual. This often gives rise to unconventional and abberational behavior on the part of the individual. In traditional culture this is the role of the joker, clown or trickster.

How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Jes’ like a rolling stone?
~Bob Dylan

This is the lament of the sacred clown that the shabby clothes of adolescence have to be cast off and the way that the soul has been cobbled together has to be restructured. In order for it to be restructured it must first be taken apart. This is the lonely stage of the nigredo, the blackness before the work is taken up.