The Modern Alchemist: A Guide to Personal Transformation
©1994 by Richard and Iona Miller
"A Stage and Unicorn in the Forest Go" ©1994 by Joel Radcliffe
The Wise truly say
That two wild beasts lurk in the forest:
One is beautiful, well-formed and spirited,
A great strong antlered stag;
The other is a radiant white unicorn.
Both lie hidden in the forest;
We call the man insightful,
Who can spy and catch them.
Here and everywhere the Masters concisely reveal
That two beasts move through the forest.
(Yet the forest must be understood to be one thing.)
First, to reach the root of all things,
Matter will be called the forest,
So shall we know and understand things rightly.
The Unicorn stands for Spirit
The Stag answers to no other name
Than Soul and none can deny it.
Now it is true that he, who by Art,
Knows how to tame them,
Leading them out of the forest,
Yet driving them close together,
Would be called a Master.
Such a man has found the Golden Fleece.
So now he may triumph,
and might govern over great Augustus.
Now it is important that you know
A Stag and Unicorn in the forest go.
Soul and Spirit exist in Matter.
Chapter III: Anima
THE UNION OF OPPOSITES
About ten of the fifteen illustrations for Lambsprinck overtly depict the dualistic nature of the Self. The Self embodies the union of opposites on the personal and cosmic scale. It presents itself through the classic symbols of paradox, such as life/death, time/eternity, good/evil, masculine/feminine, etc. In this plate, the contents of the unconscious are shown as vegetative and warm-blooded life. The stag, a real creature, is feminine and represents the Soul. The unicorn, a mythical or imaginal being, stands for Spirit. It is the masculine penetrating force. The forest is the body.
The unicorn represents "one-pointedness." Conscious intent and subconscious only collide when your rational mind wants to clamp down on unreason. The crisis, symbolized in the previous picture as confrontation, will abate if the rationality of the ego does not continue to interfere too much. Primarily because they are in conflict, the opposites will draw together over a period of time. What appeared to foretell death and destruction now indicates a possibility of harmonious blending.
In physics this process is called covalent bonding, where elements unite because of mutual deficiencies. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts because of a synergistic quality. This quality of "wholeness" is represented in psychology as the archetype of the Self. Your internal conflicts may be creative as well as destructive. Limited conflict, seen in terms of the whole, may be necessary for future development. Your conscious ego may not even acknowledge the autonomy of the Unconscious, and it certainly cannot determine the source or goal of ongoing psychic processes. Furthermore, if you overanalyze this process in yourself, you might inhibit the transformation.
At this stage, you need to develop an ego which can not only penetrate, but also diffuse its awareness. This flexible ego can form a more harmonious relationship with subconscious processes. It does not abort the transformation in the middle of the process through wrong value judgements and interference. The totality of the psyche has its own aims, which are not necessarily those of the individual ego. Psychic activity is paradoxical in nature. It looks both forward and backwards. Its manifestations are good/bad. So, it is symbolized by polarities. When the opposites unite in your psyche's depths, neither side is given preeminence.
The path through the opposites may be termed "The Middle Way" and is seen in examples from many cultures. For example, the Chinese concept of the Tao with its components Yin and Yang; the dictum of Greek philosopher Aristotle to "Know Thyself" springs from Apollonian religion which asserts that "The Mean is best." This is the basis of the Golden Mean in art and philosophy. In the working of the Tree of Life in Hermetic Qabalism, the mean is symbolized by the Middle Pillar. More recently the opposites were united in the philosophical formula of Hegel: thesis-antithesis and synthesis. The path through the opposites is also symbolized as walking the razor's edge.
Depth psychology has the aim of religion, coupled with the method of science. You can develop a love for psychological truth coupled with a scientific spirit of inquiry by delving into your own depths in this special way. This brings you the possibility of increased understanding and expanded awareness, a synthesis of the values of soul and spirit. Self-knowledge gives you some degree of freedom from selfish ego-centered desires and helps you develop philosophical detachment from the ups and downs of life.
When your ego surrenders to the transpersonal concerns of the total Self, you learn to accept your lot in life. This allows the creative spirit within to begin its transformative work. This process is reflected in your body through the harmonization of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. When you function at an optimal level there is a balance between the tensions produced in living and your ability to relax and rejuvenate yourself.
In order to transform past the nigredo phase of melancholy you may take up a conscious dialogue with your shadow, and become aware of your unconscious projections and identifications. This running commentary with your shadow is the only way to fix its character in your conscious mind, and gain insight into your depths. True, this self-examination may be painful, but to know yourself you must become aware of the contradictions between the parts of you that feel "I want" and "I ought."
The path of equilibrium between the opposites requires you to keep an attitude of open-mindedness and wholeness. There are four characteristic responses to this internal conflict of opposites which may be summarized as follows:(1). Mood swings, attitude reversals, or conversion experiences show you are polarized, and fluctuating widely from one extreme to another. The swings may be of longer or shorter duration. When the pendulum swings, you are identified with one facet of a complementary pair. You need to find the middle ground. In psychology this oscillation phenomena is called enantiodromia.
(2). If you feel ambivalence, you are holding conflicting feelings simultaneously. Again, this is no median position. You remain in discomfort, brought to a standstill. In this stagnant condition, you feel incapable of action. You are stuck.
(3). Denial is another means of reacting to the opposites. It is an escapist attitude which might provide a means of coping, but not of transformation. You may regress back into identification with your social mask. Try as you might to "keep it together" and "save face," you can't repress the conflict indefinitely.
(4). True compromise is the result of a genuine resolution of the opposites. In terms of settling internal conflicts, this means both your ego and other subpersonalities make concessions in favor of the whole, or self. The price of transformation is a regeneration of the personality. You must actively remove obstacles to the inflow of superconscious energies to experience Self-realization. As your higher functions develop, the ego learns to let the higher Self work, and must endure the pressure and pain of the transformative process.
Experiencing the union of opposites, you alternate between light and darkness, joy and suffering. Your attention is so engrossed with your inner process that you may find yourself impaired in your daily activities. Casual observers may think you are deteriorating and judge you harshly. They may find your spiritual ideals too impractical. This criticism hurts, but it also tends to arouse your doubts and discourages you. This test allows you to practice inner independence, and inner strength. You can not remain in a cocoon during your period of transition. In fact, when Jung went through this stage, he found that the only thing that kept him grounded was his family, professional life, and social duties. You may feel like you are leading a double life, but you must go on through your depression, exhaustion, and ennui. Another common mistake at this phase is to inhibit or forcefully repress the sexual and aggressive urges. This just intensifies the conflict, and usually comes from religious attitudes about what is "bad" or "sinful." The unconscious still feels the conflict and produces feelings of ambivalence, or you swing from suppression to uncontrolled expression of your drives. This may be cathartic, but creates new conflicts between drives, and in your social adjustment, and personal relations. However, these oscillations may have the positive psychological value of providing you with conscious realizations about your shadow nature. You learn to see how the shadow compensates for and deflates your egotistical self-image. In fact, it is the nature of psychological complexes to suddenly switch into their opposites. This is the basis of rehabilitation. Reform implies the reforming of attitudes and thought patterns, influencing your values and priorities. The law of compensation is the basis of "rebirth" phenomena, and represents a return swing of the pendulum. The Middle Way encourages a balanced personality, rather than radical mood swings.
The true compromise lies in the harmonious integration of all your drives into your total personality. In therapy, you can personify these drives as subpersonalities and bring them to a round table or conference room so they can coordinate their efforts and find their own levels. This will free up a lot of your energy that formerly went into conflict. The judge and rebel within are readily seen. Sometime, when your inner judge is holding court, unmask that judge and see who lies behind this punitive force in you. Usually it is the internal parent who administers the rules and laws. The wimp is the opposite side of the rebel. Your rebel establishes and maintains your individuality, but the wimp will comply to win love, acceptance, and approval. You may also consult your perfectionist, saboteur, warrior, wizard, and others.
Each of the subpersonalities responsible for your problem behavior has a counterpart in the superconscious. You can learn how to connects these opposites together to transmute the lower drive into the higher. This process is called sublimation. According to Jung, the ideal of spiritual striving for the heights is always linked with the materialistic, earthbound passion for control. The archetype of the Self expresses this paradox through radically opposite changes in your conscious attitude. These 180 degree changes of attitude are to be expected, rather than appear as a surprise. Contradictory attitudes will intrude suddenly from the unconscious in the midst of daily life. There is a way out of this philosophical dilemma if you remain true to the Self. Even if your former ego trips become the source of your shame, you can use them for impetus to change. You cannot "tame the opposites," but can allow them to equilibrate one another. They need to interrelate where they are distinct but conjoined, like at the round table discussion. Another exercise might simply be to meditate on balancing each thought against its opposite.
Then, the Self will guide you to the true compromise by presenting transforming images in your imagination and dreams. By providing yourself time for waking dreams you can foster the process within you. It is precisely these symbols which unite the opposites for you. The symbols come spontaneously from your subconscious but are perceived consciously as meaningful or valuable. It is not rationally understood, but unfolds over time. Your integration is facilitated by the activation of the superconscious functions as you realize the Self. Your larger and higher interests act like a magnet to raise the psychic energy invested in your lower drives to the spiritual level. The ego cooperates when it contributes its will to the process of harmonious integration.
Symbols hint at a mystery, but never directly reveal it. They hold great depth of meaning, which is only limited by your ability to interpret it. Symbols mediate, or form a bridge, between your logical, rational mind and the subjective, intuitive mind. The symbol stands for what you cannot yet conceptualize. It has a subtle reality, but seems "alive" as you experience it firsthand. Symbols undergo transformation, switching from one form to another, sometimes very rapidly in the therapeutic process. Thus, the rhythm of your inner changes is revealed to your conscious mind. You have a window on the tensions and release of your own subconscious processes, but only if you will to pay attention. As Lambsprinck said, "You must will to seize the noble fruit."
This symbol-forming function of the psyche has been called the transcendent function, higher Self, or Holy Guardian Angel. It functions as an inner guide. It has the ability to synthesize and harmonize pairs of opposites in a symbol your rational ego could never invent. It creates a mode of transition from one set of attitudes to the next.
Putting your attention on the transforming symbols helps you overcome compulsive behavior arising in your complexes. You may choose to use it to mobilize both your conscious and unconscious energies to change yourself. You take responsibility for your internal changes, rather than projecting them onto the environment and trying to rationalize your negative behavior. The more you value your symbols, the better they work for you. The alchemist was devoted to the discovery of the meaning of precisely these kinds of symbols. The alchemist not only gives himself over to the process, but preserves his psychic life by containing it in the Hermetic vessel. In other words, he pays attention to and meditates on the symbols presented in dreams, attitudes, and behavior. So, you might consider keeping a dream journal, recording your nightly sojourns.
At this stage of the transformation process, the opposites of the deep Self appear as your inner mate. A man's inner feminine self is termed anima (soul); a woman's masculine component is called animus (spirit). The inner mate is extremely important for further growth. By connecting with it you gain a valuable soul guide to your inner depths. They reflect your image of an idealized member of the opposite sex, and may be projected outward onto someone you love instantly and deeply. If this happens, at some point you need to re-own this projection and come to know that inner mate as a separate relationship.
These soul-figures embody your latent capacity for expression and realization of the traits you normally consider reserved for members of the opposite sex. Thus, for a man his anima might represent the capacity for being sensitive to other's feelings or his receptive nature. On the other hand, the animus might lead a woman into the outer world and promote her ability for focused, rational thinking. On this level of experience there is a blending of archetypal realities and individual experience. You can achieve a form of sacred marriage with your inner mate, known in alchemy as the coniunctio, a union which produces a Magical Child which symbolizes your potential for realization of the higher Self.
As a soul-guide, a man's anima may dampen down his compulsiveness with her inherent tendency toward inhibition. Through this balancing, impulsive behavior is transmuted into spiritual potential when you attend to the elusive intuitions coming from her within. This is an example of the same forces depicted by the stag and the unicorn. They temper one another. When you personify your soul-guide in human form, the stag transforms into the symbol of the Virgin.
This "virgin taming the unicorn" is another famous alchemical theme concerning the active and passive nature of the Self. This feminine aspect of the Self brings the wild and free, but undisciplined urges into relation with the reality needs of your ego. At the same time it helps you submit to the transpersonal totality of the psyche.
Man's unicorn nature is tamed when his wild, self-indulgent willfulness and arrogance is balanced by the gentle admonitions of his feminine guiding principle. The illusory defense, self-sufficiency, over-rational tendency and rationalizations of the shadow behavior are no longer acceptable as your self-image. At this point you can muster your energy for change.
In Jungian psychology, a "virgin" is not a woman who hasn't known sexual activity. Rather, she is a woman who is complete in herself, a symbol of feminine wholeness. She belongs to herself and functions as an independent entity uncontaminated by masculine attitudes. An actual woman may serve this function of soul-guide for a man, but only if she has a high degree of psychological awareness, and is balanced herself.
Jung summarizes this stage by stating that "since the soul animates the body, just as the soul is animated by spirit, she tends to favour the body and everything bodily, sensuous, and emotional." Jung advises us to re-own that projection: "In modern terms it would be a turning away from the sensuous reality, a withdrawal of the fantasy-projections." In other words, it means introversion, introspection, meditation, and the careful investigation of desires and their motives. The reuniting of the spiritual position with the body obviously means that the insights gained should be made real. An insight might just as well remain in abeyance if it is simply not used.
From this point on there will be times when the flow of superconscious energies is easy and abundant. You must allow it to flow through in a balanced manner, circulating it through every aspect of your being. Otherwise you will feel too scattered from nervous excitement; or if you bottle it up, you may put too much pressure on your overloaded nervous system. Use this energy for your regeneration, in creativity, and service.
For many individuals these transformations happen in a gradual, harmonious way, without producing any severe symptoms. Still, adjustment periods are required. Any adverse reactions, like nervousness or emotional upset are temporary. In fact, you may experience many regressions in the service of self-realization. They seem like steps backward, but are not. The renewed inflow of superconscious energies means powerful visionary experiences and inspiration. Use your vision, or dream frequently, keeping it before your inner eye. Connect with your inner joy, serenity, security, empowerment, discrimination, and love.
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