The alchemists believed that the univeral formula contained in the Emerald Tablet was the basis for a spiritual technology first introduced on the planet in ancient Egypt more than 10,000 years ago. This formula consists of seven consecutive operations performed on the "matter" - whether it be of a physical, psychological, or spiritual nature.
To guide us through this process, we are going to make use of a tool actually used by the alchemists - a meditative mandala first published in 1759 as an illustration for the book "Azoth of the Philosophers" by the legendary German alchemist Basil Valentine.
The word "Azoth" in the title is one of the more arcane names for the One thing described in the tablet. The "A" and "Z" in the word related to the Greek alpha and omega, the beginning and end of all things. The word is meant to embrace the full meaning of the One Thing, which is both the chaotic First Matter at the beginning of the Work and the perfected Stone at its conclusion.
At the center of this remarkable drawing is the face of a bearded alchemist at the beginning of the Work. Like looking into a mirror, this is where the initiate fixes his or her attention to meditate on the mandala.
Within the downward-pointing triangle superimposed over the face of the alchemist is the goal of the Work, the divine man in which the forces from Above and the Below have come together.
The alchemist's schematized body is the offspring of the marriage between the archetypal Sun King, seated on a lion on a hill to his right, and the archetypal Moon Queen, seated on a great fish to his left."Its father is the Sun", says the tablet, "its mother the Moon".
The laughing, extroverted Sun King holds a scepter and a shield indicating his authority and strength over the rational, visible world, but the fiery dragon of his rejected unconscious waits in a cave beneath him ready to attack should he grow too arrogant.
The melancholy, introverted Moon Queen holds the reins to a great fish, symbolizing her control of those same hidden forces that threaten the King, and behind her is a chaff of wheat, which stands for her connection to fertility and growth. The bow and arrow she cradles in her left arm symbolize the wounds of the heart and body she accepts as part of her existence.
In simplest terms, the King and Queen represent the raw materials of our experience - our thoughts and feelings - with which the alchemist works. The King symbolizes the power of thought, ultimately the One Mind of the highest spirit. The Queen stands for the influence of uncontrollable feelings and emotions, which are ultimately the chaotic One Thing of the greater soul.
The much anticipated marriage of the King and Queen produces a state of consciousness best described as a feeling intellect, which can be raised and purified to produce a state of perfect intuition, a direct gnosis of reality."All Obscurity will be clear to you", says the tablet of this state of mind.
This goal of alchemy is to make this golden moment permanent in a state of consciousness called the Philosopher's Stone, and it all starts with the marriage of the opposites within.
In our drawing, the body of the alchemist is connected to the four elements. His feet protrude from behind the central emblem; one is on Earth and the other in Water. In his right hand is a torch of Fire and in his left a feather, symbolizing Air. Between his legs hangs the Cubic Stone labeled with the word Corpus, meaning body. The five starts surrounding it indicate that it also contains the hidden fifth element, the invisible quintessence whose "inherent strength is perfected if it is turned into Earth."
Where the head of the alchemist should be, there is a strange winged caricature that is variously interpreted as a heart, a helmet, or even the pineal gland at the center of the brain. The symbol evolved from the Winged Disk of Akhenaten and became the top of the caduceus, the magical wand of Hermes where opposing energies merge to produce miracles. This knob represents the Ascended Essence, the essence of our souls raised to the highest level in the body - to the brain - where it becomes a mobile center of consciousness able to leave the body and travel to other dimensions of reality.
Touching the wings of the caduceus are a salamander engulfed in flames on the left side of the drawing and a standing bird on the right. Below the salamander is the inscription Anima (Soul); below the bird is the inscription Spiritus (Spirit).The salamander, as a symbol of soul, is attracted to and exposed in the blazing fire of the Sun. Likewise, the bird of spirit is attracted to the coolness of the Moon and is reflected in it. This is a subtle statement of the fundamental bipolar energies that drive the alchemy of transformation.
Spiritus, Anima, and Corpus form a large inverted triangle that stands behind the central emblem. Together they symbolize the three archetypal celestial forces that the alchemists termed Sulfur, Mercury, and Salt. Again, these are not chemicals at all, but our feelings, thoughts, and body.
The alchemists believed there was a formula to alchemical transmutation and that transmutation could be experienced if these seven operations or stages were followed. Illustrations throughout alchemical manuscripts give visual keys to the seven sequential steps, and show a pathway to union with the Divine self or higher consciousness.
The seven stages of alchemy are:
This is the first stage of the alchemical practice and essentially represents the process of burning. It represents a burning within the self, of energies repressed due to trauma, projection of others thoughts, ego, and feelings or emotions. Calcination allows us to bring the energy or feelings to the surface, experience them fully and cause the fires of calcination to burn the energy away. Once this step is complete, the process leaves us with a feeling of freedom from the energy.
Dissolution is the process of adding the element of water to the ashes of what has been burned by the fires of calcination. This is an emotional stage where the person takes themselves back to “the womb” of childhood where some of the impurities (repressed feelings) were attached and need to be washed away. The feelings, reactions, opinions, thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes must be examined for reality, to find whether they are based on repressed feelings or present facts. This is a stage of anxiety, fear, denial, illusion and possible mental breakdown. When a person moves through this stage they can then look at what is real because feeling all of the negative feelings has now penetrated the illusions.
In this stage of the alchemical process the individual is able to see himself in two parts or the opposites within. The two worlds represented are the world we have created -- fueled by what we come from -- and the world of consciousness and reality-- a world much different from the one we ourselves created. Repressed feelings cause a veil to be produced that causes reality to be skewed. Separation is a process of being able to see and separate the ego self that has been burned in the fires of Calcination and the feelings expressed and released in Dissolution and choosing what is now important to keep of you.
Conjunction gives us our first look at the higher realms of existence such as spiritual connection, concept of God, or something greater than ourselves that is outside of and connected to our self. This stage is described in the Emerald Tablet, “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing.”
Fermentation is also known as Putrefaction or decomposition. This decomposition is the rotting of the dead self. There is realization on a deep level of ones deficiencies, and a possibility of mental depression at this stage. To look into the dark shadows of one’s self is to look at what most deny. Jung spoke of the importance of embracing one’s shadow so that the darkness of it could be illuminated. When the shadow is embraced it can be healed with the introspection and understanding of what gave it birth. Regeneration and growth begins to take place during this stage.
Distillation is another wash of the parts of the personality that no longer work with the new self that has been uncovered. Human beings grow attached to the material world along with their thoughts, beliefs and opinions. This stage of the work calls us to release attachment to everything and feel detachment as a true form of love. This form of love is from a higher level and not a form that is usually practiced until we have let go of our attachments to end results or the future. Distillation helps wash away the dark matter of attachment and reveal the deeper intuitive self in its purest form-- light and Oneness.
This is the last stage of the alchemical process. The balance of the opposites creates a balance and harmony necessary to easily move between the two realms of matter and spirit. The person that has successfully accomplished this stage has completed unification within themselves on all levels. They have been able to join spirit and soul with the body, separating them from everything that would hinder them ascension into the union with the Divine. This is the stage of the phoenix rising from the ashes and the complete resurrection.