This article is a continuation of the previous one – „Persephone’s abduction“, in which the “abduction”, from the view of the Ego looks like falling down into the underground kingdom, but from the view of the Spirit is exactly the opposite – initiation into the depths of the unconscious. It is a meeting of the transpersonal forces that are active at deeper layers of the human psyche and require a different approach to proceed once they come on the surface in our life.
So far, I have come to understand the alchemy’s spiritual symbolism only through texts of Jung and the Jungian therapists. But lately I have tried to read more specific alchemist literature and this gave me new shades of understanding of the process of spiritual transformation – the main object of the alchemical Magnum opus (i.e. The Great Work). I will try to present below the psychological and spiritual interpretation of the first stage of this process – the so called calcination, by sharing some quotes from the website alchemylab.com together with my commentary and observations.
The calcination is the first stage of the alchemist process of transmutation of lead into gold with the support of the fire element. From a psychological point of view, the fire represents our passions – our wishes and ambitions, and lead is what we are transforming, the feelings of frustration – anger, depression, jealousy, envy, revenge, malice and other very negative and intense feelings that come to us when our wishes are not fulfilled. At this stage we meet for the first time transpersonal forces, i.e. transpersonal factors – inside and outside us, that we have no power to change. This is a time when we begin to understand that we are dealing with powers much bigger than our personal will – even though we try hard to do the right things to achieve our goals or to feel better, we fail. Then we feel trapped – cannot make the outside world give us what we want, neither can we make ourselves not to feel what we feel. We are in the very center of hell and the only thing that can help us to get out of its flames is a new approach towards our problems. What helps us is the understanding that it is about time for a deep inner change and retraining of our mind and life philosophy.
The high intensity of the feelings of frustration and helplessness that go through us is a sign that factors beyond our personal level are being involved – our Soul or higher Self. The fact that with the power of our mind and personal will we cannot manage to get what we want is a sign that what our deeper Self wants is different from the wishes of our earthly Ego. Even when at first it may seem that the reason for what we feel may be something from outside, the real reason is inside us, in the depths of our soul. We understand that what comes from outside is just a provoking, unlocking factor, realizing that we have no power not only on the world outside – the person we are in love with, the job we want, the body (the mind), etc. we want to have but don’t have, but also we don’t have a power over our emotions when we don’t get what we want.
Still there is something we can do to change the situation and it is to understand the meaning of what we are going through and find what are the instructions for proper application of such experience. The main thing about understanding the hell we have fallen into is to know that this is a process of spiritual initiation when we do not get what we want, because it is time for spiritual awakening and transformation, for personal growth and renewal. In order to have something new in our life – something related to the Spirit, our connection to the matter should be destroyed and redone in a different way. The meaning of the alchemist work at its initial stages relates to separation of the spirit from the matter and burning out all impurities of what we think we are, so what remains after are the ashes of our true essence, which is the spirit. The calcination is the first of the purification processes in the alchemist work and the most painful one, as the Ego confronts for the first time forces and experiences with which it cannot deal in the old way. Therefore, like it or not, it is forced to do some retraining.
“However, to transform anything permanently, it must first be reduced to its most fundamental ingredients. All the dross, falsity, and extraneous material must be removed. It is the job of this fundamental operation in alchemy to see that this purification is done correctly and completely. The Emerald Tablet tells us “Its father is the Sun,” and the alchemists called this initial Fire operation „Calcination“ and represented it by the symbol for a crucible. Calcination means literally „reduced to bone“ by burning in an open flame. In the laboratory, it is the heating of a substance in the fire until all that is left is a pile of white ashes. On the personal level, those white ashes represent the purified essences of your personality ¾ the real you stripped of all pretenses.”
Do you understand what it is all about – we get smaller! And we get smaller a lot! Three quarters of what we used to think we are, ¾ of the things we have built upon our identity burns in the oven of spiritual transformation, in the flames of the truth for the things as they are. Now it gets clearer why this is such a difficult and painful process. It is not easy to set free from all our demands, identifications, ambitions, expectations we have lived with until now. Until we reach our innermost identity – where the immortal part of us is, we need to burn so many impurities and attachments to the matter which are those connections to the transitional that need to be ceased. We do that by withdrawing our projections and finding that what we see to be outside of us is inside, by replacing judgmental thinking with nonjudgmental understanding. For these connections are the hooks that keep our consciousness occupied with things from the world outside where is the reason for our suffering. In the flames of the alchemic oven burns nothing else, but that part of us that has built up our personality and sense of inner worth on things that are fleeting.
“If you do not begin Calcination with the right attitude, it can be a negative and even frightening experience. Signs that your attitude during Calcination is wrong are usually expressed as constant frustration and anger. You feel as if everything is going wrong in your life no matter what you do. Everything you attempt seems to backfire on you. These are the fires of Calcination attacking your ego, assumptions, and habitual thoughts. As strange as it seems your quality of consciousness or inner attitude has a lot to do with how life treats you, with what kind of „justice“ comes your way on a daily basis. The only proper approach to Calcination is one of humility and sacrifice. Like it or not, you are moving to a higher level of consciousness, and the stronger you cling to the previous level, the hotter the fires of Calcination become.”
The quote above is very precise; it is in accordance with both my personal and professional experience. Therefore, I will repeat it again – the key to successfully passing the period of calcination and successful exit out of it is the right attitude. I have clients who even though they know what it is all about and say “Oh, yes, I do want to undergo personal transformation and spirtitual growth”, reach the point when they get stuck into a vicious circle and fail to understand what they are doing wrong. The wrong thing is that they have forgotten the purpose of what they are going through. Although they say that the most important thing for them is their inner transformation, liberating from the Ego demands, actually they keep themselves mentally busy with the opposite – how to make the other to give them what they want, or, if they do not succeed, how to punish him in return. If you keep your mind busy with what the other does and not with yourself, it means only one thing – you prolong the agony.
There is no way for you to succeed, if your soul has planned something else for you other than what you wanted. The calcination is a spiritual process; it is an initiation, burning of the ‘Ego-demands’ in the fire of our frustrated desires. In order to make this happen, we need not to get what we want. Behind the powerlessness and unfulfilled desires there is a lesson to be learnt and this lesson is humility. The teacher is nobody else but Life itself – something much bigger than us that teaches us this lesson through limitations and the ‘No’ answer.
Even though what we go through feels very unpleasant it plays an extremely important role in our life. Without that we cannot reach maturity and wisdom. Something inside of us is burning – it is an old and limiting view to life and we have a choice – to continue asking for the things we want and get angry when we do not receive them, or, we could say “let burn all fake and superficial things inside of me until only the core essence is left, let me fall apart to find where my inner center is, let go everything ego-centered in my thinking – beliefs and demands, no matter how much it hurts; more important than having my wishes in the material world come true is to become free from being a slave of my desires and the possessiveness in my love“. When we have an attitude like this, the calcination happens in the right way.
“Psychologically, Calcination is the destruction of the leaden center of consciousness, which is the ego and all the illusions and self-deceptions it maintains to protect or enshrine itself. Personal Calcination means getting free of the stranglehold of earthbound ego and replacing it with the true Self, which is rooted on a higher plane of reality. For most of us, Calcination is a natural humbling process as we are gradually assaulted and overcome by the trials and tribulations of life. People caught up in Calcination often feel as if they are trapped in the fires of Hell, burning up and suffering through their life yet unable to escape. Surprisingly, it is not until these fires are burning that your transformation begins, for the only way out of Hell is rise up with the flames.”
The symbolic language of alchemy not only gives us words to understand the strange logic of the Spiritual awakening and transformative process. It supports us with the beauty of the images that describe the experience we go through. The comparison of the chemical process of purification through the element of fire with the burning feeling of the frustrated desires is a very precise metaphor of the spiritual processes we go through.
“During this primary phase of transformation, you have to turn up the fire of consciousness and concentrate on your thoughts, habits, assumptions, and judgments. You have to be utterly truthful about all situations, all relationships. In this way, you learn to recognize falsity and burn away the leaden or crystallized thoughts that often take on a mind of their own and become unintended responses or robotic reactions to people and events. During Calcination, you use the flames of consciousness to burn through illusion, self-deception, defense mechanisms, bigotry, and all the other dogmas and dramas of the Tyrant Ego that has usurped the throne of the transpersonal Self, who is the rightful ruler of the personality. As in the Grail legend, the kingdom of your personality will wither and decay until the true King is restored.”
What makes the calcination a spiritual process is the fact that in its essence it is the battle that happens between our two halves – our worldly personality and the transpersonal Self. The old tyrant – Ego, is not easily transferring its power to the real ruler – our higher Self. He keeps fighting and cheating although what happens is beyond its control. It is its “illusion, self-deception, defense mechanisms, bigotry, and all the other dogmas and dramas” that is the fuel for the alchemist’s oven. Until we get humble and stop being slaves of our demands, vanity and pride, the fire will keep burning.
“Controlled Calcination begins with a deliberate surrender of our inherent hubris (pride or vanity) through a variety of spiritual disciplines that ignite the fire of introspection and self-evaluation. Before undergoing Calcination, people are stubborn, materialistic, and fearful of change. About the only positive quality that can be found in such a person is a certain practicality born from having their dreams repeatedly squashed. However, those who have passed through Calcination no longer approach the world through the pulpit of ego, for they have discovered a more genuine identity at the tabernacle of soul. People describe being in the presence of a calcined person as “refreshing.” They sense the freedom of no longer having to be manipulated or controlled by deceits of someone else’s ego.”
It is good for us to know that – very often we do not succeed to deal with the Ego’s resistance to give up its power and to free the throne only because we do not know an alternative way to support the new Self that is being born. Because we have not found the depth and the power that comes when we are free from attachments and rooted into the immortal part of us driven by habits or automatic responses we look for evidence of our inner worth from the world outside. Therefore, the acceleration of the calcination process would come with the choice to be real no matter what it costs, to live the truth even though in the beginning it is very painful. If we manage to sustain in this intention, we would see that our disappointments, both from our own self and from the others, start getting replaced by something new, much more beautiful than what we had before. This is the power to be our own Self without the need to play a role, without being afraid of the reactions and validations of other people, without manipulating and being manipulated when trying to reach our goals.
“Remember to keep a sense of humility during Calcination. Seek out new teachers, read books on alchemy and other spiritual sciences, and stay open to new ideas. Realize that the viewpoint of ego is materialistic and narrow and concentrate more on intuitive feelings, invisible forces, and lasting truths.”
In short, the suffering during the calcination phase we go through has its spiritual meaning and only by understanding this meaning helps us to cope with the burning pain. “You are entering a period of intense bodily, mental, and spiritual transformation,” say the alchemists about this period, so we do not have any other option, but to cooperate. The right action in this case is not throwing out to the others our anger, jealousy or other feelings of the abducted Persephone (abducted not by her own will!), but to keep all this within until we reach the ashes of Cinderella.
So, the alchemist formula to transform the fire of incineration passions and frustrated wishes is:
- To accept that we cannot get rid of our feelings, nor change the other person – what is happening to us is at a transcendental level and it is something beyond our personal will or conscious intentions.
- Instead, to accept our feelings as they are – Gods’ messages, and to try to listen to what they want to tell us.
- What they say is that the time to transform our consciousness has come when we should stop dealing with the outside world – people, possessions, things – all objects of our frustrated wishes, and rather start dealing with our own self.
- This means to be absolutely true and fair even though we may not like what we can see.
- We shall accept our limitations and see that the powerlessness that bothers us so much is actually the reverse side of the coin – its positive side is humility and self-sacrifice, which are the key outputs from the calcination process.
- We have to make a choice about what is more important to us – the emotional dependence or freedom.
- We have to live according to this choice – even though it may be very hard and desperate sometimes, even though it may seem too long.
- When we fully burn down to the bone and what remains in the alchemist oven is only a pile of ashes – the innermost part of our self, the calcination process has been completed. Something inside us has profoundly changed – it feels light and free. Then the phoenix is born for a new life, arising from the ashes and destruction.
- Be aware that the end of the calcination is not the end of the transformation process. It is only the beginning. Other forms of separating the wheat from the chaff will follow, until we get purified down to our innermost self.
It is interesting to observe that quite a few spiritual writers give generously tips on how to build up things like self-respect, career, love relationships. They constantly give recipes of the type “Do this and you will achieve that”. I do not say that creation is not part of God – what I say is that destruction is quite a big a part of it, too. We constantly remove something in order to make space for something new. This can be seen anywhere and best – in nature and human history. Something dies and another new thing comes to life. For me the true, mature form of spirituality comes as a result of a long destruction process. The recipe above demonstrates the “destruction of the fire”, but then the “water” comes (the feeling function), and after it – the air (intuition function). In astrology there are three transcendental planets – Pluto, Neptune and Uranus, which transits are usually related to destroying the old. That is why Howard Sasportas starts his book “The Gods of Change: Pain, Crisis and the Transits of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto” with Khalil Gibran’s quote:
“Your pain is but the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” – Khalil Gibran
There are not too many people attracted to recipes like the one above – where the main recommendation is to burn yourself to the bone in the fire, to become ashes and shrink to less than half of what you are. Still, the logic is simple – our innermost part is a pure spirit, comes from God and is as perfect as He is. We don’t need to do anything to achieve it – we already have it. By birth. The only thing we need is to remove the impurities. Destruction comes into our life to bring us expansion. We live too narrow, attached to small things that we perceive to be big and we have a nervous breakdown each time we do not get them, being blind to the fact that even if we have them they sooner or later will be taken from us. Because these are things we can love or use to create our new self but we cannot possess.
The alchemy is a process of inner transformation. And transformation means that something has to die in order for something new to be born. What dies is the Ego-will, what is born is humility, when we surrender our small will power to a higher power that we usually call God and who is the one who can send his son to the cross. In the flames of the fire burns the dark side of Pluto – desire for dominance and power-struggle. Therefore, the gift of its purification process is humility. In humility is the true power, as it brings peace and freedom.
I would not recommend the above recipe if I have not tried it already myself. So, if you go through the calcination processes and tell me that it is extremely difficult for you, know that you have all my understanding. I know how it feels. Although it will be hard for me to give my sympathy to the resisting part of you – the same that suffers most and screams because it is burning in the oven. Giving sympathy to the old Tyrant doesn’t help to get him off the throne. What helps is to have the knowledge how to proceed when this experience comes and not to forget our true desire.
Also to have faith that there is an exit from the flames – a place where you feel much freer and lighter, stronger and peaceful than you have ever dreamt about. The price you pay to go through the purifying flames of the calcination is definitely worth paying.