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Alchemy

alchemy by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino via Flickr

Wikipedia gives a wonderful summary of Alchemy, worthy of being repeated here:

Alchemy is an influential philosophical tradition whose practitioners have, from antiquity, claimed it to be the precursor to profound powers. The defining objectives of alchemy are varied, but historically have typically included one or more of the following goals: the creation of the fabled philosopher’s stone; the ability to transform base metals into the noble metals (gold or silver); and development of an elixir of life, which would confer youth and longevity. Alchemy is recognized as a protoscience that contributed to the development of modern chemistry and medicine. Alchemists developed a framework of theory, terminology, experimental process and basic laboratory techniques that are still recognizable today. But alchemy differs significantly from modern science in its inclusion of Hermetic principles and practices related to mythology, magic, religion, and spirituality

With this brief summary under our belt, let’s highlight some of the main facets of alchemy—at least, those which might be most helpful for spiritual seekers.

In everyday usage, the word alchemy describes a psychological dynamic within and, according to C. G. Jung, among real people. Its etymology points to the actual practice of alchemy, derived via Arabic from the Greek chemeia.

Alchemy (2) by Tom Holmberg via Flickr

Historically, alchemy involved the mixing of heated chemicals and mineral substances with a view toward artificially transforming base metals into gold. The ancient Greeks in Alexandria around 300 BCE practiced the art, as did the Arabs and Chinese. During the Middle Ages, many shams posing as alchemists arose in England. There was great interest, especially among the nobility, because these shams said they could make gold out of base metals.

Few realize that Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) wrote on alchemy, and his writings were unpublished in his lifetime. The theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) also wrote on alchemy. And in the sixteenth-century the Swiss physician Paracelsus wrote extensively on alchemy. Moreover, the poet John Donne claimed that “some can finde out Alchimy” by reading the Bible. Astrologers, too, were keen on alchemy. In medieval Europe 12 distinct alchemical stages were associated with the 12 astrological houses of the zodiac.

The depth psychiatrist C. G. Jung believed that alchemists not only transformed substances but also practiced a psycho-spiritual technique. Jung claimed that, because the alchemists’ were closely connected to their work, the transmutation of substances paralleled their own psycho-spiritual development. Along these lines, raw sulfur (prima materia) was transformed into gold (the philosopher’s stone) through various boiling and chemical treatments. So, Jung’s thinking goes, baser aspects of the psyche were likewise transmuted to a higher awareness, leading to a more comprehensive outlook. This transformation involved stages, culminating in a ‘mystical union’ of the male anima and female animus archetypes within the self, which Jung believes are universal.²

Alchemist Sendivogius.

Alchemist Sendivogius. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Discounting the historical frauds who faked the creation of gold to try to scam aristocrats, Jungians tend to see alchemy as a personal quest for wholeness and immortality. This quest usually entails a sequence of a psychological deaths and rebirths. For Jung these deaths and rebirths are not just symbolic. Instead, good and bad psychological states accompy each stage of the process. And we apparently feel them, making them emotionally real.

Some students of mythology tend to see the theme of dismemberment and restoration (best exemplified by the Egyptian Osiris) as a mythic parallel to the alchemical process. The Romanian religion scholar Mircea Eliade maintains that the alchemists quickened the natural pace of geological change. And without really explaining too much or saying why he says so, Eliade says the alchemists were altering time. Eliade also wrote novels. So perhaps his literary side was emerging here. But that doesn’t really help us to pin down what he was alluding to. Just more mystery.

Having said that, it seems Eliade is not referring to the subjective experience of time but rather to cheating the laws of nature. Transforming raw elements into refined forms (such as carbon to diamond) normally demands precise geological conditions and a definite duration. By quickening the process, Eliade says the alchemists overcame a natural process and thus mastered time, itself.³

An Alchemical Laboratory, from The Story of Al...

An Alchemical Laboratory, from The Story of Alchemy and the Beginnings of Chemistry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Assuming it’s not all quackery, the alchemical process might accelerate the geological rate of change. But Jungian Marie-Louise Von-Franz claims that the alchemical stages follow their own temporal logic, representing general phases in the process of psychological transformation. Although usually painful, Von-Franz says the alchemical stages cannot be quickened. The mythic and yet subtly visceral ‘boilings’ and ‘dismemberments’ of the psyche undergoing these changes must be patiently endured, with the ultimate hope that maturity and wisdom – what the alchemists call the elixir of life – will eventually rise from the ‘fire’ of suffering.

Perhaps most interesting in all this, however, is Jung’s assertion that the metaphor of alchemy can be extended to the dynamic of human relationship. That is, relationships are like chemical interactions. Accordingly, Jung wrote a piece called “Marriage as a Psychological Relationship” (1925). And he dabbled with the parapsychological idea that mystical relationships could occur at a distance, an idea far more discussed today than in Jung’s time.

Related Posts » Bhagavad Gita, Magnetizers, Ramakrishna (Sri)

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alchemy

² This view has been critiqued, notably by Naomi R. Goldenberg. See Changing of the Gods: Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions.

³ Eliade’s thinking on alchemy and time is confusing or maybe just underdeveloped or possibly understated. A similar argument about time could be made in the context of buying a fast food hamburger instead of raising and slaughtering cows, and then cooking the meat for oneself. Is the nature of time really altered by buying a hamburger? It’s hard to know if Eliade is just playing intellectual word games or if he actually believed he was hinting at something deeper, something too profound for the masses to get at that time.


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Enantiodromia

Carl Jung

Carl Jung (Photo credit: o admirador secreto)

Enantiodromia is a process outlined by the depth psychologist C. G. Jung in which one psychological modality is said to naturally flow into its apparent opposite or polar complementary.

Jung believed that nature, and by implication mankind, is self-directed toward a union of opposites. So he forwarded what could be regarded as a Jungian doctrine (some might say dogma) of psychological integration, balance and wholeness.

Related Posts » Yin-Yang


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Internet

The CERN datacenter with World Wide Web and Ma...

The CERN datacenter with World Wide Web and Mail servers via Wikipedia

The internet (a.k.a. WWW, World Wide Web, the web, the net) is changing so rapidly that every time I come back to update this entry (that is, every few years), I find it hopelessly outdated.

First developed by the USA military in response to the Russian Sputnik satellite of 1957, the web really came to maturity in the 1990s, but free Telnet access had been available in the US since 1975.

Since dominating the market in the 90s, the web remains relatively new and fast changing. And although it didn’t create a global utopia, the internet does represent a whole new vista for mankind’s ability to share information.

Not just a massive, worldwide encyclopedia, the web is a medium – some would say “space” – where those with access to a computer and an ISP (internet service provider) may create their own web sites to express personal views, share information, communicate or sell goods and services.

In its beginnings, many hailed the internet as the new organ of democracy, others saw it as the royal road to riches. Then came the so-called dot.com winter where a large number of internet businesses went bust. Early idealistic and get-rich-quick thinking about the internet was gradually replaced by a more realistic view of its tremendous potential.

Although an exciting media technology, the web operates within existing global structures. As such, its economic and transformational potential depends on a variety of factors and, at bottom, choices made by human beings and their governing bodies.

While the web continues to get bigger and faster, specialty features like customized headline search involving RSS (really simple syndication) and various applications (Apps), in combination with new wireless technologies have made the internet an even more effective tool for gathering information. And social media sites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Flickr and free software like Skype have pretty much changed the way we relate as a species.

All this change has taken place with a simultaneous growth in hardware. Computer processors are always getting speedier, and short and long term memories larger. So a good computer of just a few years ago is really just a mediocre one today. And anyone who surfs the web a lot will be able to tell the difference in less than two seconds flat!

Related Posts » Burrows (William S.), Digital Scanning, E-mail, Gould (Glenn), Internet Addiction, McLuhan (Marshall Herbert), Tek War, Urban Legend


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Shapeshifter

Colors Aglow by Sanford Kearns

Colors Aglow by Sanford Kearns

Shapeshifter

Not a few world mythologies and religions suggest that some beings and objects have the ability to change shape.

In ancient Greece, for example, Zeus transforms himself into a Swan to entice Leda. And in ancient Rome, Ovid‘s Metamorphosis is mostly about gods, animals, people and objects that continually change shape.

The idea is also found in Europe, Africa, South America, North America and China. Among these cultures, the wolf, tiger, fox and jaguar figure prominently as shapeshifters.

Traditionally, shapeshifting may involve transformations among people, spirits of the dead, gods or animals. Sometimes it involves a man or woman becoming a beast-man or beast-woman.

Ethically speaking, shapeshifters may be good, evil or something in-between, as with the Native American trickster.

The ancient Chinese distinguish between legal and illegal shapeshifting. Legal shapeshifting results from increased knowledge through the study of ancient classics. Illegal shapeshifting is gained through a form of tantric sex where female power is stolen by the male though the act of coitus reservatus—i.e. copulation without male ejaculation.

Contemporary ET and UFO lore talks about alleged alien shapeshifters from another planet or dimension, living on Earth and masquerading as human beings. Some conspiracy theorists believe that ET shapeshifters are here to dominate and oppress humanity, others take a less alarming approach, saying they’re benevolent creatures trying to guide us to a brighter future.

In science fiction the shapeshifter theme is widespread. Actor René Auberjonois, for instance, plays Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a character who can assume any form he chooses.

» Loki, Odo, Tantra, Werewolf

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Thiering, Barbara

Pope Benedict XVI WYD SYD 2008 Visit - The final days of Jesuss life on earth (though not according to Dr Barbara Thiering)... by Sam Herd

Pope Benedict XVI WYD SYD 2008 Visit - The final days of Jesus's life on earth (though not according to Dr Barbara Thiering)... by Sam Herd

Thiering, Barbara (1930 – )

Australian author of several works, including the best-selling Jesus and The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Thiering is something of a naturalist and believes that the miraculous aspects of the New Testament are just codified political statements. She studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, which mention a “teacher of righteousness” and writes that this teacher existed in the Qumran community, somewhere between 200 BCE and the time of Jesus.

For Thiering the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal the social conditions and practices of that Qumran community. And she believes the New Testament writings about the nearby Early Christian community can be assessed from the perspective of that Qumran community. For instance, in Qumran all newcomers were apparently initiated, regardless of social standing, with a baptism of water. Members of the inner circle were also given “The Drink of the Community,” which Thiering says was wine.

She argues that Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding ceremony at Canaan reveals the Gospel writer’s ingenious attempt to symbolically convey Christ’s true message–that is, group membership is not just for a select few, but for all types of people (John 2: 1-11).

Thiering likewise says that the miracles of the virgin birth (Matthew 1-18-25; Luke 1:26-38; Isaiah 7:14), walking on water (Matthew 14:25; Mark 6:48-51), the multiplication of loaves (Matthew 14:15-21; 15:32-38), the eating of miraculously obtained fish (John 21:1-11) and the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) represent the Gospel writers’ use of symbolism to depict natural events and political motives on the part of Jesus.

Jesus, she claims, didn’t walk on water but walked on a “jetty” (i.e. a wharf or dock). She also sees the Gospel account of Peter getting “out of the boat” to “walk on the water” toward Jesus in metaphorical terms.

Peter’s becoming afraid and beginning to “sink” when the wind picked up is purely allegorical, as was Christ’s “outstretched hand” that rescued him (Matthew 14: 25-32).

Common sense dictates that we cannot “sink” while standing on a jetty. But for Thiering Peter’s symbolic sinking represents his fear of being “number two” to Christ. His sympathy with the rite of circumcision, which Paul abrogated, would make him “sink” in stature.

Citing another New Testament passage that says it’s better to drown in the sea with a millstone around your neck than suffer the consequences of putting a “stumbling block” before one God’s children (Matthew 18:6), Thiering says this passage adheres to and supports her interpretation of Peter’s sinking (Matthew 14:30) because “the same verb” is used (Jesus and The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Toronto: Doubleday, 1992: 329).

But from a broader perspective, her argument seems questionable. Some scholars insist that portions of the Qumran scrolls were, in fact, imported from outside Qumran. Meanwhile others say that the scrolls might be commentaries on Old Testament scripture.

Randall Price says that Thiering’s logic sometimes contradicts itself. Price points out that Thiering’s use of the so-called “pesher technique,” that apparently gets at the “true meaning” of the scrolls, is a false attempt to legitimize what is nothing more than her own individual interpretation, weakly supported (as sometimes happens with overzealous researchers) by a vast amount of illogically applied data.

According to Price, “pesher” simply means commentary.

Florentino Garcia Martinez rather bluntly says:

Thiering’s work is a wholly artificial construction that not only disregards logic and distorts the meaning of events, but trespasses all reasonable boundaries of sound historical reconstruction (See Randall Price, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1996: 361-369).

Poststructural and semiotic approaches would suggest that the motif of sinking and being rescued connotes not just one, but a plethora of possible meanings (for instance, losing and regaining faith).

Meanwhile, many Christian writers say that the symbolic import of miraculous events need not conflict with their historicity. Instead of reducing the miraculous to the natural and political, the events and teachings in the life of Christ arguably serve a dual function: First, they are actual, for the benefit of those around Christ at the time. Second, they are symbolic for the pastoral benefit of subsequent generations.

Another, partially related view from the area of depth psychology differs somewhat from Thiering’s as well as from orthodox Christian perspectives.

Depth psychology emphasizes the mythic instead of the historical dimension of Christ. Although contemporary individuals don’t undergo physical crucifixion, death and visible resurrection, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and others like James Hillman the Christ story depicts an archetypal truth about psychological transformation.

Individuals sometimes undergo a symbolic death of outmoded, inappropriate ego-attitudes. In the best case scenario, these are replaced by newer, more comprehensive realizations–a symbolic type of resurrection. » Christology, Language

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2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Science-fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke, as well as a film with screenplay by Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, starring Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood.

While the novel helps to flesh out the enigmatic film, it’s a bit pedantic. The film, on the other hand, is regarded as a cinematic classic.

In the film two interconnected themes are explored with a bare minimum of dialogue: (1) Mankind vs. Machine, and (2) Mankind in Evolution.

The machine, a HAL 9000 computer, malfunctions and murders astronaut Frank Pool and several others traveling in suspended animation en route to Jupiter (Saturn in the novel). The lone survivor, Dave Bowman, disconnects HAL’s higher processing modules, despite HAL’s advice to “take a stress pill, relax, and think it over.”

Bowman is then transported through an alien gateway to a distant world. Dying, he is reborn a Star Child.

In Clarke’s original story the child-god returns to Earth to safely detonate an orbiting hydrogen bomb. Unsure what to do next, he will “think of something.”

The catalyst for the Jupiter mission (and eventual transformation of Bowman) is a strange signal emanating from an anomalous, rectangular object discovered just underneath the Moon’s surface.

The film tells us that another, identical object was present on Earth at the dawn of mankind. The novel explains that the object, often called the monolith, was planted by aliens in order to guide the evolution of mankind.

The screenplay is far more open-ended than the novel. But both portray astronaut Dave Bowman’s metamorphosis in a way consistent with various mythic cycles relating to the theme of death and transformation.

Subsequent novels like 2010 (also a film), 2064 and 3001 use the literary device of retroactive continuity. That is, certain plot and setting details are modified by Clarke but not at the expense of a greater, more holistic sense of coherence. For instance, in the sequel film 2010 we learn that the HAL 9000 was told to lie by Washington, which was incompatible with HAL’s programming. So the computer’s somewhat sinister ‘malfunction’ of 2001 becomes something more of an unavoidable and forgivable psychosis ultimately caused by human error, as HAL ironically indicated in the original film.  

3001 explores an intriguing idea where consciousness of human origin (Dave Bowman) unites with a computer program (HAL) to create a new kind of hybrid named Halman. » Cylons

Official 2001: A Space Odyssey Trailer

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