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