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Body, Soul, and Spirit in Alchemy

Of all the esoteric traditions, alchemy was one of the leaders in bringing attention to the division of Body, Soul, and Spirit.

What Is Alchemy?

Alchemy was humanity's first attempts at chemistry and metallurgy. Starting centuries before the C.E. there were those who tried to transform natural substances into the precious or the supernatural. Some tried to make gold from fairly ordinary substances. Others attempted to make a mysterious substance with the power to do the miraculous such as produce extreme longevity or great strength. The early alchemists were not deluded. While these efforts started off in pursuit of actual, material results, it quickly produced non-material benefits.

The benefits were a more inwardly focused life. Instead of finding gold or immortality they found rich visions, new insights into life, and a powerful poetry outlining transformation. How did this happen? The alchemists were operating at a time when there was no "scientific method" demanding objectivity, material proof, and repeatability. The alchemist was immersed in his own wishes, desires, and inner mythologies. When looking into his flasks he saw not what we would label a chemical process, instead he saw a substance being "tortured, broken and enspirited" (a common alchemical description of distallation). A change of shape and color was seen as twisting and turnings of a substance in the process of transforming itself. A flask was a "womb" bringing new life to crude materials.

These waking dreams of the alchemists draw our attention of the fundamental processes of change, may that be in the physical world or in our inner development. Applying the language of the alchemists we have the sort of language necessary to bring about profound and lasting change.

Alchemical Illustrations Highlighting Body, Soul, and Spirit

Figure 1 is taken from the very beautiful collection of alchemical illustrations, entitled the Book of Lambspring (or Lampsprinck). Created in the sixteenth century Germany, the illustrator included poetry to accompany this work. A portion of the text with this illustration states:

"The sea is the Body, the two fishes are Soul and Spirit.

The Wise say in accord that two fish swim in our sea; neither of them have flesh or bones. Let them achieve maturity in their own water; then they too will become a great sea, the vastness of which no man can describe.

There are two fish yet there was one; they are both equally important, and yet they are both one.

Every material object is composed of three things: Matter (Body), Spirit, and Soul.

Now I tell you further that these three should be united, so that they are all assimilated in the great sea. A similar process can take place within yourselves, and you should have great powers of growth.

You should understand and note that two fish swim in our sea. The sea is Matter (Body) and the two fishes are Soul and Spirit."

The author is quite clear here, that he is using fish and the sea as analogies of what we can experience inwardly ("A similar process can take place within yourselves" and "neither (fish) have flesh or bones." This alchemist knew that his craft was an art of the imagination and the heart not of the chemical world.

He also calls attention to our great trinity of expression of the major forces in our lives while at the same time pointing to a underlying unity. This unity is wholeness. The wholeness that can come about when we do our own alchemy of exploring each force of Body, Soul, and Spirit and then allowing that greater awareness lead us to inner unity ("Now I tell you further that these three should be united").

If another example can be included here for good measure, Figure 2 and the accompanying text further states the alchemist's convictions about this triple path.

"In the Body there is Soul and Spirit.

The Sages say truly that two animals are in this forest; one glorious, beautiful, and swift, a great and strong deer. The other an unicorn.

They are concealed in the forest, but happy shall that man be called who shall snare and capture them. The Masters showed you here clearly that in all places these two animals wander about in forests (But know that the forest is but one.)

We shall call the forest the Body. That will be rightly and truly said. The unicorn will be the Spirit at all times. The deer desires no other name but that of the Soul which name no man shall take away from it.

He that knows how to tame and master them by Art, to couple them together, and to lead them in and out of the forest, may justly be called a Master. For we rightly judge that he has attained the golden flesh, and may triumph everywhere..."

Another alchemist, Gerhard Dorn, discussed how Body, Soul, and Spirit had first to be separated and them reassembled into a mystical whole. Dorn's process first required "overcoming" the body by increasing one's awareness of Soul and Spirit. Once Soul and Spirit went through a purification process (development of increased awareness of each force) they could be reunited with the Body. Next, a much deeper unification of could take place that would result in great wholeness. Although Dorn wrote of this process in alchemical language, it follows the essentials of the process outline in the Getting Started section of this site.

Dorn's process can be seen in the illustrations of an unknown 16th century alchemist (Figure 3). Here, the soul is shown returning to a conjoined but unanimated (notice the crows, they represent death) Spirit/Soul.





Jung, Carl. The Practice of Psychotherapy (Vol. 16 of the Collected Works), "The Psychology of the Transference: Interpreted in Conjunction With A Set of Alchemcial Pictures."
Jung, Carl. Mysterium Coniunctionis, (Vol. 14 of the Collected Works), "The Conjunction."
Waite, Arthur Edward. The Hermetic Museum: Containing Twenty-Two Most Celebrated Chemical Tracts, "the Book of Lambspring."
Odajnyk, V. Walter. Gathering the Light: A Psychology of Meditation, "Meditation and Alchemy."


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