Alchemy Is Working On Me

Updated: Nov 16


The green lion represents sulphur and therefore the combustible aspects of the psyche: lust, desire, egocentric passion, temper. Taming (or transmuting) this quality happens when he devours the sun/solar aspect and the energy of desire is transformed into a higher state: a passion for all of existence. According to Tantra, passion is essential for compassion: compassion cannot be actualized if passion is negated.


“The system gives enormous value to the movement of the soul downwards.”

James Hillman, The Alchemy of Psychology I’ve been revisiting the art of alchemy through an audiobook of lectures by James Hillman. What I’m re-learning is that alchemy is the transmutation of substances, but also psychological states. It is the figurative and metaphorical language of the transformation of the psyche, a map of the soul’s descent into the body. It is evergreen, always changing, never resting. It incorporates the planetary influences and the elements of the earth, employing them as change agents, solvents, processes through which we learn to navigate the metaphysical.

Tantra, too, is alchemy. The great gift of Tantra is the transmutation of suffering into bliss; illusion into enlightenment: not rejecting, but embracing, expanding, and including what might otherwise recede into shadow. Naked awareness. Meeting the moment. Making oneself a vessel strong enough to contain the fires of transformation and the intensity of awakening (Vajra Body).

Both of these arts can be wildly esoteric and seemingly impenetrable--especially when they are approached intellectually. It seems to me they represent a lively dialogue between matter and spirit; the subtle and gross aspects of reality. Like Nature itself, they can be understood and appreciated, but not controlled. They also both exist behind a veil of secrecy--a hermetic seal--that is important not because there's something devious going on, but to preserve the sacred and precious aspects of arts so subtle and indigenous to this earth. You have to work hard to become worthy of their revelations. These are living wisdoms, not inert philosophies. They work on us rather than us working on them.

What I am enjoying in this recent revival of alchemy in my life is the way it engages my creativity. It points to problems and solutions but leaves the experimentation to the alchemist (that's ME and YOU). As Hillman says at one point in his lectures: "The work of alchemy is to release the soul. The release doesn’t necessarily mean freeing the soul from matter. It’s freeing the soul from literalism." The more I walk through the world receiving communication through symbols, color, metpahor, the more illuminating the dialogue with the Divine gets. My mind has expanded and I see more. In Tibetan subtle anatomy, the "mind" is located at the level of the heart. The heart, it seems, is where real understanding happens. Alchemy is a language that bypasses the rational mind and speaks directly to the heartmind.


Much of my work with the Vajrayana and the teaching of embodiment is about preparing ourselves for the alchemy we need now. We need strong containers (our bodyminds) for potent catalysis. We also need the grounding that only Mother Earth can provide. She holds us in her lap, whispering to elemental aspect of ourselves and the forces that work within and on us. She is the greatest alchemist. I am exploring what it means to be an alchemist in this time. So far, what I am learning is that it involves ritual, creativity, will, effort, experimentation, curiosity, studiousness, discernment, and courage. This is the art of alchemy.

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