Fundamentally, the stage of Dissolution involves a process of release. Here, we are to come to terms with and finally surrender to the rage and wrongs we came up against when as the fires of Calcination burned through our Egos. It is a time of grieving the harm done to us, by others as well as ourselves. It is a time for letting go of what once was, and what we wished for and never had.
With this in mind, we can turn to the process of Cibation as a tool for healing and working through our grief. In practical alchemy, Cibation is a technique in which water is added to the remaining ashes that have carried over from Calcination.
In psycho-spiritual alchemy, it involves a similar process, where we bring our most intense emotions (symbolized by water) to the areas which are still most blocked and resistant to change within us.
HOW TO PRACTICE
Start by thinking of one of our most painful childhood memories, or any painful incident from our past that remains.
CRY. Really. Get into it, feel the depths of your pain, and let it all out.
Your focus on this meditation should be on the pure emotional energy that comes up, rather than on the details of any particular incident. Keep in mind that, appearances to the contrary, it is often in your darkness where you are to find your greatest light. If you can fully move through your emotional pain and physically release your grief, you will free this energy up to be used in another place for better purposes.
Don’t be afraid to ugly-cry if necessary. It’s okay if your mascara runs all over your face—the more, the better. It is important that this not be only a mental exercise, or even just an emotional one, but a physical experience as well. According to the principles of somatic therapy, any trauma we experience is held as memory in our body, not just in our mind.
We can’t heal something until we feel our emotions physically in our body and complete the response which may have been inhibited in the original traumatic incident.
One method that can be utilized in the process of Dissolution is known as the “Bain Marie.” The name essentially means “Mary’s bath,” and is a reference to the woman who invented the process, Maria Prophetissa, a Jewish alchemist who is said to have lived sometime around 100 B.C.E.
She invented the “Bain Marie” for use in laboratory alchemy, where it was intended to wash the burned material left over from the Calcination phase. The basic concept is that of something like a double boiler, where the water in the central vessel is kept at a constant temperature through being submerged in another container of boiling water.
It is the larger, outside container which is subjected to the direct heat, allowing a more gentle, stable process to occur in the container in which the actual contents being washed are held.
The Bain Marie is also useful in psycho-spiritual alchemy, and in this instance, refers to a cleansing and calming meditation we can use after experiencing the difficult emotions associated with personal calcination.
How to practice
We begin by calming ourselves with several deep inhalations and exhalations of our breath. Then we can start to imagine ourselves in the warm, soothing waters of the Bain Marie.
We may also choose to imagine ourselves in a warm ocean, held by the waters of the all-loving, compassionate Divine Mother.
As you breath in, imagine the warm water permeating your energy body that need to be cleansed, gently soothing difficulties as it washes away all impurities.
As you exhale, you can imagine all of the pain and hardness inside of you melting away.
You can repeat this process as many times as you need to until you feel yourself cleansed and soothed by the element of water.
You may decide to draw yourself a warm bath and perform this meditation while submerged in the water. You can also add salt to the bath, which is known to be both physically and energetically cleansing.
As you finish your meditation, you can imagine that all difficulties or negative energies have been captured in the water, and watch as it flows down the drain and out of your life forever.
Back in May of this year, I had a dream where I saw hundreds of old cell phones and pagers with open text messages displayed on their screens, all sinking slowly into the ocean.
I was out in the ocean in a row boat, paddling around and trying to read the messages on the screens. But every time I approached one of these devices, it just sunk further and further into the ocean.
I rowed around like this for what must have been hours, trying to catch a glimpse of the messages which I thought may have been meant for me.
But no matter how hard I tried everything just sunk deeper and deeper into the depths before I was able to grasp it.
Of course, as I usually do, when I woke up I asked myself what this dream could mean for me.
The first thing that occurred to me is that is that it showed me I was starting to feel the effects of Neptune in Pisces squaring my natal Mercury in Gemini. This is a transit which had started to come into effect earlier this year at the start of March (and which is going to last for the better part of the next 3 years).
Neptune in astrology represents dreams, fantasies, illusions, spirituality, confusion and sacrifice, while Mercury symbolizes the conscious mind, words, communication and logic.
The square aspect is usually thought to be a challenging one, where a crisis is often brought to a head, sparking an opportunity for creative resolution of the original conflicting dynamic.
So on one level, I took this dream to represent a sense of confusion I’m feeling around how I have conceptualized my spiritual principles and ideals, and what this all means for me in my day-to-day lived experience.
On another level, I think this also means that I’m being forced to confront some of the illusions I’ve had about the ways I’ve communicated with others in the past.
I think that some of these habits, thought patterns and ways of interacting with others are not really serving me anymore. This transit could be an opportunity to re-evaluate, let go of what isn’t working and find new ways to express myself and my vision.
“It is not that uncommon for the deities of one culture to be reinterpreted as the demons of another. Lilith is likely a rare case of a demon from one culture being reinterpreted as a deity of another.”
That’s not the whole story though. Before Lilith was a demon, she is thought to have been a deity from other goddess-worshiping cultures in the Mediterranean/Middle East, one where worship quite often included fertility rites and sex magick/rituals.
She was literally demonized by the conquering patriarchal Jewish religion which came afterwards. She is not truly a demon being wrongly glorified by deluded feminists. Instead she can be seen as a case where a “demonized” deity is in fact simply being returned to her original position.
In the Jewish tradition, Lilith has long represented things such as infant death, miscarriage, impotence, etc. However, she is also seen as representing the female desire for sovereignty (erotic and otherwise), and the dangers to society this has represented over the years.
As a result, she is not meant to be “endearing.” She is not a sweet, loving goddess but instead one who is sure of herself and willing to stand by her convictions no matter what the cost. She is meant to be powerful, strong and yes, maybe even a little bit terrifying (especially to those who would seek to control her).
Just because she is a female deity or mythological figure doesn’t mean she should be sugar and spice and everything nice. In fact, that’s exactly the point of reclaiming Lilith. For women, to reclaim Lilith means reclaiming all the parts of themselves which have been silenced, oppressed and erased: their desire, their rage, their capacity for self-determination.
I have worked with Lilith in ritual before and I do not worship her–I work with her. I evoke her strength of character and capacity to defend herself, her ability to feel righteous anger at oppression, and her belief in herself as a person with integrity and a right to have and express her desires, wants and needs.
As a woman in a patriarchal culture, it’s something I’ve struggled with over a lifetime. When I work with Lilith, I meditate on what she represents and thank her for reminding me that I have a right to self-determination and self-expression, no matter how “demonically” selfish others around me might think that to be.
As the fire (and other signs) progress through the wheel of the zodiac, they take the original energy of that element and go on to develop increasing complexity in how it is expressed.
It is thought to be an expression over time (as expressed spatially across the wheel of the zodiac). It is also the result of combining the signs element (fire) with its modality (cardinal, fixed, mutable).
So for the fire signs this would mean that Aries (a cardinal sign) could be considered the most “pure” expression of fire. It is outward reaching (as fire rises), it considered passionate, willful, quick to anger (as fire is hot), etc. Also, Aries is known for being concerned with the self and having a very strong ego.
The same strong ego drives and outward expression are present in Leo (a fixed sign), only at this point in the zodiac they have become a bit more tempered or sophisticated. Rather than being concerned with will, aggression, and dominance, Leo tends to show its fiery side with more of a focus on self-expression, creativity, and play.
Ego elements are still there, of course: Leo’s are known for being very proud. But the focus is more on creativity and self-expression rather than ego dominance.
By the time we get to Sagittarius (a mutable sign), that fiery energy has been tempered even more. This sign still possesses the fire element qualities of outward directed expansion, which is why it is so heavily associated with ideas like travel, adventure, and exploration. This also includes the themes associated with exploring new horizons in ways that are mental or spiritual (for example, through religion, philosophy, etc.).
This morning I woke up from a very difficult dream. I had spent most of the night crying in my sleep. Here’s what happened:
In my dream my dad and my brother were going to all these different events and giving speeches about everything that was wrong with me and why I deserved to be rejected. I sat at all of them, trying to plead with them and convince them otherwise. No one listened to me, and I cried as I saw them give speech after speech on everything that was “bad” and “wrong” about me.
Oddly enough, my mom was by my side at every one of these events with me. Sometimes in their speeches they would briefly mention how bad and wrong she was too, although the focus was mostly on me.
When I woke up, I felt very upset and saddened by what I had experienced over the course of the night.
What really stood out to me, though, was how my mom was on my side at every point during this dream. It’s really not like her to stand by me (in fact, she would have been the most likely of any of them to give a speech like that attacking me).
So I had to ask myself, what could this apparently small detail mean? I was sure it was significant.
Pretty quickly, it occurred to me that maybe it was my unconscious trying to show me the way my anima and animus related to each other.
The anima/animus was a concept developed by Carl Jung which in a sense, describes the anima as the part of our psyche which can be thought of as being “feminine.” The anima is associated with the unconscious, the body, and our feeling and emotional states, as well as our desires and needs.
The animus, on the other hand, is believed to be the part of our psyche which analytic psychologists associate with the masculine. The animus is thought to relate to our conscious mind, our rational thought processes, as well as order, reason and logic.
Although most of us within a given culture will tend to have these basic conceptions of what our anima/animus are like, the way that they actually present themselves within a given individual’s psyche is highly personal, dependent on life experience and unconscious psychic material.
I think this dream was trying to show me the way that my inner masculine or conscious mind relates to my inner feminine, or emotional/feeling part of me.
I saw how my masculine side was in fact very abusive to the feminine parts of me. The “rational” conscious side tends to dominate and hurt the emotional feeling side. It has all of these unrealistic expectations about how things “should” be, and it punishes and hurts the parts of me that refuse to comply.
I began to see how I have internalized the roles that I saw my mother and father play. I introjected their beliefs and patterns of behavior, and in turn had my inner masculine/feminine adopt the same roles within myself.
One of the unhealthy ways in which this has manifested for me has been that I have very little ability to care for myself. I refuse to listen to what my body is telling me, or to accept what I am feeling.
Instead, I tell myself: “No. You need to work harder. You don’t deserve to rest until you’ve done better. You don’t deserve anything until you’ve achieved what I tell you to. Not until you stop being bad.”
This usually results in me forcing myself to do what I don’t want to do. I hurt myself this way because I’ve long believed that’s the only way to “discipline” the parts of me that are “wrong” and “bad.” These bad parts are always the feeling parts, that part of me which has needs and desires and wants to rest and feel okay.
I’m starting to understand that my animus does not necessarily possess some kind of truly evil intent toward the anima. The attitude of my animus, in fact, reflects the very same beliefs which my father has held toward my mother. He has always tried to “help” her, but in a way that reflects some pretty toxic underlying beliefs about her (and possibly about women in general).
My mother has been perceived, in his eyes, as being: unintelligent, even stupid; incompetent and incapable; crazy, confused and irrational; and even bad, wrong, and unwilling.
This, in turn, is perceived as requiring his need to act to control and dominate and coerce her into “seeing the truth” and accepting the superiority of his more rational and “right” values and ways of being.
Even though this is obviously insulting, selfish and even maybe abusive, I can see that there is a genuine belief that he is doing his best to “protect” and “provide” for her. It is based on a perceived inferiority on the part of the feminine in general and my mother in particular.
Just as my father treated my mother, my “thinking” conscious self now treats my unconscious (my body, my feelings and my desires) in very much the same way.
It seems to genuinely believe in the fundamental “wrongness” of my feminine or feeling side. As crazy as it might seem, it wants to protect it, and it does so the only way it knows how: by bullying it into doing what it thinks is “right.”
The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner opposite, the world must perforce act out the conflict.”
I’m starting to understand how this impacts my relationships, as well. If I can’t have my inner parts of myself relate to each other in a way that is positive and healthy, I’ll never be able to have a relationship that is any better.
If I don’t do anything to shift the roles inhabited by my anima and animus, then I will continue to recreate these same roles in all of my romantic relationships that I may enter in the future.
This dream seemed to be the way my unconscious was trying to get me to see what I needed to change in myself before I could move beyond these patterns in my life.
I can see now that I must begin to make these changes starting from within. I know and trust from experience that if I can do this, then the problems I’ve experienced in the outer world will begin to shift naturally as a result of the changes in my inner world.
The second phase of alchemy, dissolution, comes after the fiery heat of calcination which incinerated the ideas we once had about who we are and our place in the world.
Once the ego has been suitably reduced to ashes, we then become ready to commence the dissolving process of the Great Work.
In laboratory alchemy, this process involved adding water or some other kind of solvent to the ashy powder left over from the burning of calcination.
In terms of psychospiritual alchemy, we now come into contact with the waters of the unconscious. Here, it is as if we are drowned in all of our long-repressed emotions, swamped by our most painful memories, and shaken by the most terrifying of our latent fears and anxieties.
These previous unconscious elements are the deepest, most obscured parts of ourselves which we have worked hard to keep hidden from both others and ourselves for an entire lifetime. These repressed psychic contents are matters of profound consequence, and addressing them fully is a matter not to be taken lightly.
We have seen that the previous phase of calcination tends to involve a kind of destructive fire which rages through our lives, consuming everything it touches as it burns.
However, it is in this next stage of dissolution where we begin our first steps toward conscious awareness of what is truly happening to us.
It is during this phase when we must truly come to terms with our lives and all of the losses we have experienced. In dissolution, we start to deal with our real, lived experiences and our deeply felt sense of what it means to grieve, not merely as an intellectual exercise, but in our hearts and through our bodies.
This process requires that we surrender to the often painful truth of our current realities. We must learn to let go of any grasping or clinging to what our ego has desired or has falsely believed to be true.
In the stage of dissolution, we are being asked to surrender and come face to face with the contents of our own souls as they truly are.
After Bellows Breath, you may want to follow up with another practice called the Dance of Sulfur.
Sulfur is a yellow powder which the alchemists believed symbolized the active masculine principle of fire. It was often used in laboratory alchemy in the form of sulfuric acid (also known to them as vitriol).
The Dance of Sulfur is an exercise to increase energy and circulate it in the body. Not only that, it is ideal for taking the emotions which arise in Roasting Cinnabar and the energy raised in Bellows Breath and expressing them in a healthy way. We can use the Dance of Sulfur to let go of pent up rage, aggression and other emotions that have been suppressed or held in our bodies for too long.
HOW TO PRACTICE
To begin, you can put on some music (some say angry or aggressive rock music works best) and start to dance. You can try any other type of aerobic movement that will increase your heart rate, like jogging in place or jumping rope, but I prefer to dance, as it really allows you to get into the music and feel the powerful feelings which have been brought up by other alchemical practices. Aim for at least 20 minutes of movement in this practice.
Try to leave thought and the conscious, rational mind behind. As much as you can, drop your awareness into your body, feel all the emotions coming up as the energy grows stronger and rises within you.
Once you feel you are in the moment and present in your body, start to imagine intense, fiery energy rising up in waves from below. You can then direct that fire energy to any areas of tension or pain in your body (either physical or emotional). Let the flames wash over you, consuming the stagnant ego structures of your past, and burning up and releasing any ideas, emotions or behavior you want to let go of.
This practice, along with the previous two, may be used alone or in conjunction. If you have the time, I recommend creating a ritual that combines Roasting Cinnabar, Bellows Breath, and the Dance of Sulfur (in that order).
When I have done this set of practices together in the past, I like to say a prayer or set an intention (whatever works for you), and I light a red candle to honor the rage and pain of the past, and to symbolize what will be consumed and released during the ritual. You may also want to conclude this set of practices with a ritual bath (salt baths are great for this). Visualize the salt water cleansing you of any remnants of anger or stuck energy, then picture all of these troubles leaving you for good as they are washed down the drain at the very end.
A good Calcination ritual to start with is known as Roasting Cinnabar.
This meditative process is related to the work done by alchemists in the laboratory, working with real chemicals.
In this process, alchemists would would roast the mineral known as “Dragon’s Blood,” or Cinnabar, which is a red-colored sulfide of mercury. When roasted over an open flame, drops of pure liquid mercury are released from the cinnabar and fall down into the ashes.
The purpose of this meditative process is to get us in touch with our mostly unconscious judgements and reactionary behaviors that serve to protect and enhance our egos. We must become aware of these forces within our psyches before we are able to release them to make room for our true or higher Self.
HOW TO PRACTICE
Start by entering a state of relaxation, one in which you feel detached from your worries and daily concerns or problems. You can do this by focusing on your breath, by noting the “in” or the “out” breath or by counting each breath as it passes. You may also use a mantra of your choice to bring your attention inward. When you find you are relaxed, move on to the next step.
Slowly count backwards from 10 down to 1. While counting down, continue to relax each part of your body, starting at the crown of your head and moving down to your toes. Take care to make each breath slower and deeper than the last.
Visualize brilliant red cinnabar roasting over an open flame. As you do so, let your mind travel back to any moment of your life where you felt humiliated or enraged by someone else. Try to notice the true cause of your intense feelings—they are typically tied up in a sense of losing control, of not having any power over yourself, and of your ego or sense of self being diminished.
Observe your thoughts as they stream through your mind. Notice the ways in which you reacted to being hurt. This can include such things as promising yourself you will never be vulnerable and risk getting hurt again, or lashing out at someone else to soothe the ego’s pain. Re-evaluate how you responded to these painful circumstances. Ask yourself, is this the best way to respond? How would my higher or wiser self choose to respond instead?
Most importantly, allow yourself to experience all of your difficult feelings. Avoid suppressing and repressing your pain. It never truly goes away, and there is much wisdom to be found in the depths of your own darkness.
Notice all of the insights and wisdom that come up as you do this. Picture this to be the mercury being released from the cinnabar. Imagine yourself gathering up all of this precious mercury into a glass bottle as it is released from the rocks of cinnabar.
This mercury, this purified thought, is now yours to use as you wish.
There are seven operations in the process of alchemy, the first of which is calcination.
This is the process of burning through the dross of the ego we have built up over the course of our lives, so that our true self may be released and expressed.
This is not an easy experience to go through, which is why so many of us avoid it. It often seems safer to cling to our egos, no matter how much suffering they may cause us, than to face the delusions we have accepted and the lies we have built into our personalities.
This process requires us to go through the fires of hell in order to emerge renewed. We must experience all of our pent up anger, frustration and rage before we can move past this stage.
We are forced to come to terms with some of our most difficult emotions in a process which has been referred to as “the death of the profane.” The false self must die in order that the true Self may live.
For there is no room in the psyche for two rulers. The false ego drains our energy, asking us to focus on superficial qualities or objects. We may focus on our physical appearance or have an obsession with material possessions and financial success. All of which obscures our essence, our higher self which is in touch with something greater than ourselves, and out of which meaning and purpose are born.
Some alchemical practices for working with our egos and moving the calcination process forward are Roasting Cinnabar, Bellows Breath and the Dance of Sulfur. It is important to recognize that alchemy is not an abstract, theoretical mental discipline. It involves all the dimensions of our being, and as such is something that much be practiced.
You can choose to do one alchemical practice at once, or as I have done, combine several into a longer calcination ritual. I will describe the practicalities of these processes more in depth in coming posts here.