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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The Maze & the Labyrinth

Many of us consider a maze and a labyrinth to be one and the same thing, but there is actually a subtle difference.

LABYRINTH is the term used when there is only one fixed, or unicursal, path to the center.

A MAZE, on the other hand, refers to a multicursal path that may contain dead ends or different ways to reach the center, and where the possibility always exists to become lost within.

For example, the structure built by Daedalus to hold the minotaur in Ancient Greek mythology has usually been referred to as a labyrinth, but today we might all this a maze, as it was clearly multicursal, with many complex paths and dead ends meant to trap the minotaur.


The unicursal labyrinth is powerful symbol of spiritual transformation. The labyrinth was a symbol which combined the circle and the spiral into one symbol of wholeness.

The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

To move from the outside starting point of the labyrinth to the center, and then back again, is symbolic of the spiritual journey to the center of the self and beyond.


I found a lot of insight into the symbols of the maze and the labyrinth in the words Marion Woodman, renowned author and Jungian analyst:

“A maze is a puzzle to be solved. It has dead ends. You may get lost in a maze. You run into a minotaur and be killed.”

Marion Woodman

Like Woodman, I spent many years of my life feeling like I was trapped in a mazed, living as if in fear of a deadly minotaur, and confronting dead end after useless dead end.


“A labyrinth looks superficially like a maze, but it’s different. There are no dead ends, no traps. There is only one path, and it takes you by a circuitous route to the center.”

In her own life, Woodman found that when she at last confronted her deepest fears and faced death, she was also able to realize the perfection of her life experience and see the purpose of her path.

“I was finally able to surrender to life, because at long last I KNEW there was a center and that if I kept listening, opening, and walking forward, my path would lead me to that center.”

I am finding that the same is true for me. I am going to keep walking. I know the center is there, ever present, just waiting for me to open my eyes to it.

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Feel It to Heal It

To truly heal your past, you need to be able to fully feel and embody your emotions.

Art by Aldous Massie

We often deny or repress our emotions for a wide variety of reasons. By far the most common is that painful feelings are uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s easier for us to pretend that everything is “fine” and nothing is bothering us.

Other, more complex factors can play into our unwillingness to honor our pain. As a child, we may have been punished for showing our anger or sadness. “Boys don’t cry,” we were told. “You’re just being dramatic.” “You’re too sensitive.” Phrases like these could have led us to deny our own feelings, even to ourselves.

In order to heal, we must learn to trust ourselves. This first requires that we feel and embody our emotions. It is only then that we can release the pain of our past and embark on a new future, free to be the selves we wish to create.

I have identify three core steps that have been useful for me when it comes to feeling and healing my feelings.

  1. AWARENESS

It is often difficult for many of us to know what we are feeling. Meditation is the most important tool we can use to develop our awareness not only of our thoughts but also our feelings.

Here are some resources that have been helpful for me in the process of developing my self-awareness:

Real Happiness by Susan Salzberg

Headspace App

2. COMPASSION

The second crucial component in this healing process is developing our compassion, especially when it comes to self. We will be much more resistant to recognize our pain and our possible errors in judgement if we have a habit of being judgemental and unforgiving of ourselves.

When we are able to see our faults and our pain from a place of awareness, understanding and love, we are then more willing to change our behavior and move our lives forward.

Loving-kindness meditation is an excellent way of developing compassionate habits of mind that will help us. This will usually involve sitting in meditation and generating positive feelings towards others and yourself. UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center has an excellent Loving-Kindness Meditation for those who are interested in developing their own practice at home.

Self-care routines can also be helpful. When we begin to prioritize ourselves and our needs, we start to understand that we are worthy and deserving of care.

3. EMBODIMENT & EXPRESSION

The final step is the most important. This is that actual practice of noticing, feeling, and moving through our bodies all of the emotions we have been holding inside.

There are many ways to embody our emotions. We can simply allow ourselves to feel as thoughts and memories come up. We can hold space for ourselves in a safe place to laugh, cry, scream, etc. We can engage in somatic spiritual practices like yoga.

My favorite way to express long held emotions is to dance. In Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, I learned a practice called “Swamping”.

Swamping involves moving through three stages of embodying & releasing emotions.

We start with a song dedicated to our rage. We dance, we punch pillows, we growl, we scream, we let out all of the anger we have felt we needed to stuff inside of ourselves.

Next we dance through our grief. We hold ourselves as we sway to our song, we wail, we cry over all that we have lost.

And finally, we dance into our turn-on. We can put on a sexy fun song that brings us back in touch with our excitement for life and the core of our power.

Whatever way you choose to embody and express your feelings, you will doubtless come through at the end with a weight off your shoulders and with a renewed sense of health and wholeness.

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