Alchemy

Prima Materia

The Prima Materia, or First Matter, is a difficult concept to define. It has been said that the First Matter is both everything and nothing.

According to D. W. Hauck , “It is the primal One Thing that existed before time, as well as the primordial chaos that contains all possibilities.” It is said that the First Matter carries the germ or seeds of all things that every existed or ever could exist in the future.

In the Emerald Tablet, the “One Thing” refers to the Prima Materia. This was then acted upon by the thoughts or word of the One Mind to create the material reality we can observe with our senses.

The Egyptian hieroglyph for the sound “kh” also symbolized the concept of the First Matter. It was the first letter used in the word khem , which means “black matter which is alive.” [It also the root of the word alchemy.] Other possible translations of this word are “placenta,” “fertile dirt,” or “living black soil.”

It can be thought of as the unmanifest, the part of God or spirit that is all potential, that contains all possibilities.

It the substance that we start with, the raw material that is perfected through the entire alchemical process known as the “Great Work.”

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Alchemy

The Dance of Sulfur

After the 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Alchemy

Bellows Breath

Bellows Breath is an active meditation that can be used to increase conscious awareness and raise energy in the body. Practitioners of Kundalini Yoga may recognize this as what they call the “Breath of Fire.” It can be used to release stuck energy in the body, oxygenating the blood, and expanding lung capacity.

HOW TO PRACTICE

  1. Begin by sitting with your legs crossed. Then focus on the energy in your body around your navel.
  2. Keeping your mouth closed, begin by inhaling and exhaling rapidly through your nose. The in and out breaths should be equal in length, but as short as possible. As you exhale, push the air out of your lungs quickly, similar to a bellows used to start a fire. Try for between 2-3 breaths per second.
  3. After a few minutes, you may start to experience a warm energy rising from your navel up to your head. Try to experience this rising energy without any judgements or assumptions about you are feeling. Just feel the energy spreading in your body.
  4. You may choose to imagine that as the energy rises, it is clearing away physical or emotional blocks in your body. You can visualize this fire energy moving through your body and burning away any toxins, negativity, stuck emotions, or past behaviors, leaving only a healthy body and mind behind.
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Alchemy

Roasting Cinnabar

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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Alchemy

Calcination

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.

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Alchemy, Astrology

The Age of Horus

On December 21, 2020, a Great Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn occurred at 0 degrees of Aquarius.

For some, this marked the official beginning of the Age of Aquarius. However, others debate this and assert other dates as being the true beginning of the age and the resetting of the cosmic clock.

Regardless of the exact date, I think many of us can feel there is a certain something in the air that shows there are indeed noticeable shifts happening.

The Age of Aquarius is lauded by many as the beginning of a New Age of progress for humanity, when the people will take control of the Earth, truth will be revealed, and a huge wave of individuals will experience great shifts in consciousness and expanded awareness.

However, others believe that in this age, religion (as in the Age of Pisces) will be replaced by knowledge (or facts or data) as the main tool used by secretive, powerful elites to control the masses.

But my favorite explanation of this time is found in equating this time with the Age, or Aeon, of Horus, as pictured here in the Aeon card of the Thoth tarot.

As the son of Isis and Osiris, Horus represents the Child archetype, the salt of earth which combines the qualities of spirit and soul from both sides of his lineage.

This fact points to the importance of what precedes us, and the legacies which we have inherited. To move into the Aeon of Horus, we will have to transition out of the Age of Osiris, or the time of the Father, with its patriarchal perspective and value system. It was an age concerned with control and dominance, as well as counterbalancing themes of sacrifice, suffering and death.

Before this, came the Age of Isis, or the Mother. During this time, matriarchies ruled the Earth. The land herself, and the beauty and pleasures of the body, were then the object of worship.

The Aeon of Horus is expected to be an age of alchemical transformation, in which the inherited qualities of previous ages are integrated and wholly embodied in our selves.

Creating the future does not involve a rejection of our past, but a careful examination of our full inheritance along with choices made of what we will choose to embody and carry forward.

As a feminist, I strongly believe that creation of a new world does not involve rejection of the masculine in any way. The feminism I believe in rejects only the patriarchy and its rigid systems of dominance and control. It is this rigidity that keeps both men and women locked into our respective roles, living as one-sided attempts as human beings.

Integration of the masculine into the feminine, or the animus with the anima, is the only way to create new life, and a new world.

As a result, we are being called to embody our inheritance in a way that honors the fullness of our humanity. That integrates our thoughts and our feelings, our spirits with our bodies, the forces of Eros and Logos, drawing strength from both chaos & order, structure & freedom.

It is only when we have integrated our dual and complementary ways of being that we will know that we have arrived. It is then that we may experience the joys promised by the initiation of this new age.

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Alchemy

The Caduceus, or “Staff of Hermes”

The Caduceus is one of the most well-known symbols in the world today. However, the true story and significance of this symbol remains obscured to the vast majority.

Most of us will recognize the Caduceus as a symbol belonging to the medical community. If asked, most would likely say that this symbol was adopted by doctors and other medical professionals as their symbol representing the power of healing, and that its origins can be traced to Asclepius, the ancient Greek physician.

Others, however, dispute this theory, arguing that in reality, what we know as the Caduceus is of much greater antiquity, having been traced back even further to the Greek legend Hermes Trismegistus.

There is a Greek legend which tells the story of how he came to possess what has also been called “the Staff of Hermes.”

It begins with a Greek seer named Tiresias, who discovered two mating snakes in the middle of the road on Mount Kyllene. When Tiresias went to separate the snakes with his staff, he was turned into a woman. He remained a woman for seven more years, until again he encountered and separated another pair of snakes.

The powerful staff, together with the snakes, was then hidden in a cave on the mountain; it is said that it is here where Hermes would eventually be born, and would make his home.

It is often thought that the snakes represent the life force, or inner creative power within man (and woman). Some even speculate that, since the caduceus looks quite similar to the double-helix structure of DNA, this could be clue hinting at the possibility that Thoth/Hermes may have somehow manipulated the structure of the human genome to advance our progress and hurry us toward the future evolution of humanity.

These are all interesting ideas, but the possibilities are not limited to these two options. I believe there are many ways of reading this myth, especially in light of certain alchemical principles.

I have my own inclinations when it comes to interpreting the symbolism of this mythic origins story, but I’d love to hear what you think.

Do the snakes and staff (and wings, in some versions) have any personal significance for you? What does it mean to heal or be healed, and how does the symbolism of the Caduceus represent that?

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Alchemy, Magic

VITRIOL

I’ve been thinking often about the past.

That is nothing new. But what is new are the things that are coming up for me.

So many long-forgotten memories are coming to the surface.

So many feelings and events and versions of me that I have mostly been avoiding. The past is so painful, I’ve just wanted to bury the entire thing and forget about it all.

But I’ve been surprised by my self the past few days; not all of these memories are bad ones.

There are actually many, many things which have made me smile. And some which have even made me feel very proud of my self and the person I was.


Mostly, it has been bittersweet.

I’ve been able to look back and see that there were so many good things about me that I have chosen to not recognize.

And I have found that even in the most painful, tragic circumstances of my past, there is the recognition that I was truly doing the best I knew how to do.

Now that I’m further removed from it, I can see the impossibility of the situation for what it was. I can forgive myself now. What I did then didn’t mean what I thought it did at the time. Even in my greatest darkness, I find that there is some redemption.


Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem

“Visit the innermost parts of the Earth; by setting things right, you will find the Hidden Stone.”

-D.W. Hauck


I came across this as I was reading a book on alchemy last night.

I wrote it down immediately. I felt it was perfect for the process I am undergoing now.

I’m visiting the deepest parts of myself, places I didn’t even know existed still. I am going to the core of my being, and with new vision, I find that I am capable of setting things right.

I am finding that what I pushed down as unworthy, the things that weighed heavy on my heart like lead, often contained a secret shimmer of gold.

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Alchemy

Who is Thoth?

Known as the “Father of Alchemy,” Thoth is the Egyptian God of wisdom, writing, science, magic, art and judgement. Considered “the divine intermediary between spirit and matter,” he is also the God of the dead.

In the myth of Osiris, it was Thoth who gave Isis the words she used to resurrect him after she had gathered all the dismembered pieces of Osiris’ body.

According to Budge’s The Gods of the Egyptians, “The ancient Egyptians regarded Thoth as One, self-begotten, and self-produced.” It was said that he spoke the first Word of Creation; what he speaks, he creates. It was he who brought all the other Gods into existence.

According to some sources, Thoth was born at the beginning of time “from the lips of Ra” and was even known as the “god without a mother.” According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, “Thoth is self-created at the beginning of time and, as an ibis, lays the cosmic egg which holds all of creation.”

Thoth was also known as “Lord of Ma’at”, “Lord of Divine Words”, “Revealer of the Hidden”, and “Lord of Rebirth.” Later, the Greeks would know him as Hermes Trismegistus.

He is credited with writing thousands of scrolls containing ancient wisdom and knowledge. Among these are:

  • The Book of Breathings — teaches spells and breathwork that can be used by humans to become like Gods.
  • The Book of the Dead — teaches how the departed can navigate the underworld to reach the afterlife.
  • The Book of Thoth — this text is said to have “revealed the true story of the creation of mankind and described an afterlife in the stars for those who followed his teachings” (Hauck).
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Alchemy

What Makes Alchemy Work?

Why has the practice of or interest in alchemy endured for so long?

Many would say it’s because of what is now known as the “perennial philosophy.”

This term was first used by Leibniz to describe the eternal philosophy underlying all religions, and it was later popularized in the 20th century by Aldous Huxley.

It has now come to describe the idea that there are certain underlying principles which form the core of all of humanity’s experiences, in particular with regard to “the nature of reality and the meaning of existence.”

According to this philosophy, the basic tenets of all religions are similar and shared — it is only the cultural and historical additions added by each that cause all of the disagreement.

The following are some “perennial principles”:

  1. The material is just one aspect of reality. Actually, this physical world of materiality can be thought of as being the expression of a higher order or spiritual plane (similar to the Platonic ideal, or world of forms).
  2. Humans are also dualistic in nature: they have an (imperfect) physical body and a (perfect) spiritual body. This is unified by the divine energy inherent in all things: the life force, or what is known in alchemy as the Quintessence (the Fifth Element).
  3. All people have the capacity to perceive both realms, but few try to do so. According to perennial philosophy, this is unfortunate, because it is only in perceiving and using this knowledge of the spiritual or ideal world that men and women “can become who they are truly meant to be and achieve mastery and self-actualization on Earth.”

It is this insistence on duality in the manifestation of the universe, as well as the necessity of realizing the higher to truly understand the lower, that defines perennial philosophy and makes it integral, according to some, to the process of Alchemical Work.

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