Tag Archives: alchemy

Chuck’s Place: Trial by Fire

By fire…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Trial is ordeal. Fire is passion! Trial by Fire is enduring the ordeal of passion, a deeply challenging encounter, the encounter of now.

Human passion emanates from the root of our instinctual animal being. When activated our faces redden, our voices growl and howl, our bodies thrash and react involuntarily, seized by the heat of passion. Like flames in a fire, passion flails recklessly.

One step above this hot core of our fiery roots are emotions, which, though flushed with the fire of passion, are somewhat tamed by our ego as they churn in the furnace of our solar plexus. These are the more manageable emotions of anger, frustration, desire, craving, competitiveness, and narcissism.

Finally, at the mental region of the civilized self, are feelings, which have rationally transformed the fire at the root into energetic units of valuation. Here we have our feeling judgments: I like, want, need, am attracted to, am saddened by, repulsed by, made happy by, etc. These rational feelings bear little resemblance or relationship to their passionate roots.

Jung observed that the Christian era, which correlated with the Piscean Age of the past 2000 years, contributed greatly to the advancement of this mental plane in humanity, however, this at the expense of its connection with its earthly passions, which became the province of the rejected devil. Though this internal civil war was won at the spirit mental plane its resulting hegemony is wearing thin upon its devils below.

That brings us to today, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, where those rejected devils have risen up in uncontrollable flames of passion as they sweep the Earth in actual fires, political uprisings, wars on social media, conflict in human relationships, and warring splits within the human psyche. From the outermost perspective the Earth itself has become an alchemical retort with fire its catalyzing agent, as all warring opposites are pitted against each other in a Trial by Fire indeed.

This appears to be the first spiritual challenge of the Aquarian Age: to take on the reconciliation of its formerly disowned passions, at its human animal core, with its high reaching values generated from its abstract mental plane. Apparently, the main technology of the Christian era, keeping separate the animal and mental selves, with the mental plane maintaining superiority, can no longer contain the needs of the self, or the world, as both push for a more comprehensive wholeness.

The unleashing of previously contained fiery passions upon the world stage, with wild abandon and without regret, is the approach stoked by those most in charge of world policy today. Many in the world populace now model this unleashing of fiery passion without restraint upon any who would oppose their positions. This Trial by Fire is producing many casualties. Justified or not, the fact is that these flames are  rapidly burning down the foundation of modern civilization.

All must be where they are in the trial. For many participating in the fiery war of words, the outside world becomes the furnace of their transformative process. No one can be convinced to give up what they are attached to. When we argue and fight, our passions embody us, often at great cost to our energy reserves and inner balance. These battles are renewed in seemingly inexhaustible intensity as the world fights itself on social media.

Nonetheless, detachment is not a choice, it must be achieved. One method is through sheer exhaustion where passion exhausts the body and psyche and survival forces us to ultimately let go. Though  a costly energetic approach, many are convinced that outer protest and confrontation are critical to change.

For those more innerly inclined, the furnace of transformation is the hologram of the self, which makes its worldly contribution through the axiom, as within so without.

To contain within the self all the warring passions of animal and spirit in a heated process—that looks not outside the self for the relief of blame—is a formidable furnace of transformation. Therapy is one such vessel for this process as we confront and own all that we are—passion and spirit—in a journey whose destination is greater wholeness vs. greater domination. As with the outer playing field, the inner playing field must itself arrive at a true place of detachment where truth prevails, special interests burned through.

Trial by Fire is where we are. Know that there is always sanctuary in the human heart. All must have their safe place to release and rejuvenate. Love is the  most inclusive respite, as love can even love the part of the self that hates, but we must burn through much before we can truly inhabit it.

Nonetheless, heart-centered breathing heals the wounds and calms the nerves. Take advantage of it.

From the heart,


Chuck’s Place: Hillary As Hermaphrodite

The hermaphrodite is a being that overtly embodies both male and female characteristics. The name itself is the merger of the male god Hermes with the goddess Aphrodite. In ancient alchemy, the hermaphrodite symbolized an important stage in the merger of chemical products leading to the ultimate goal of the alchemical opus, the creation of gold or a diamond.

Masculine & Feminine together... - Photo by Chuck Ketchel
Masculine & Feminine together…
– Photo by Chuck Ketchel

The significant achievement of the hermaphroditic stage during the alchemical process was the incorporation of opposing elements into a single entity. This incorporation did not ensure a fruitful union of these elements, called the conjunctio, however, it did set the stage for this possibility by ensuring that all the opposing or warring elements were present to undertake that unifying process.

At present, America, indeed the entire world, is sharply divided into opposing, warring factions. The only hope for future progress, even saving the world, may be predicated on an hermaphroditic container that can set the stage for a unified whole.

Also at present, Donald Trump has embodied an exaggerated defiant masculine energy that relegates the feminine to a youthful sex object. Beneath the surface, however, he is driven by a Dionysian energy that promises renewal through the destruction of the gridlocked established order. His appeal touches those who identify with the beleaguered masculine, as well as with those excited by the spark of spontaneity he offers and the change it promises. Mr. Trump expresses no interest in integrated wholeness. He boldly extolls the one-sided solution of masculine power, control, and domination. Mr. Trump does not contain all the elements of the hermaphroditic symbol; he represents one exaggerated side only.

Hillary Clinton has been dubbed the establishment politician, identified with an untrustworthy old order that needs major revamping. Of course, this characterization is highly suspect and lacking of many facts. However, the public has been highly conditioned to view her through this filter.

Though far from perfect, Mrs. Clinton does present as a mature, steady person who embodies the caring side of the feminine and the clear thinking side of the masculine. With respect to the feminine, Hillary does not present as a mere sexual object but rather as a wise and stately, beautifully aging crone. I assign her the symbol of the hermaphrodite for her ability to incorporate both the mature yet opposing elements of the masculine and the feminine, the unity of which has the promise of leading toward a reconciling process for America and the entire world.

The other night, the collective unconscious sent me a dream to weigh into this process. I was in a YMCA gym. In one corner of the room, a woman’s basketball hoop was centered on one wall. On the other wall a men’s hoop needed to be put up, centered, and anchored. The set up made no sense. If the men and women played at the same time they would occupy the same space, clashing into each other. It became my job to put up the men’s backboard and hoop. I lifted it up and walked up a ladder to set it on the wall. As I got to the top of the ladder I realized that the backboard was wobbly and unstable. I took a hammer to pull out a flimsy nail, thinking I would set a screw in its place, when the entire thing suddenly fell. Immediately, the scene shifted. Now I was on the roof of a ten-story apartment building. A young teenaged girl was sitting on the ledge of the building. As the backboard fell it turned into a flat TV screen, hitting the girl. Both the girl and the TV screen plunged to the ground, ten stories below. I woke with a start.

Cornered! -Photo by Chuck Ketchel
-Photo by Chuck Ketchel

The salient feature of my dream is its “cornered” setting. First, there is no escape; the masculine and feminine basketball players cannot escape each other. They must contend with each other as they occupy the same space. Secondly, the fact that the masculine and feminine occupy the same space points to the alchemical hermaphroditic container of both masculine and feminine features in one being.

The central problem in the dream is the masculine backboard; it suffers a weakness and ultimately is raised way too high—ten stories—clearly a very unbalanced state of inflation that must be brought down to earth. Here we see Trump’s bombastic inflation, symbolizing the high and mighty abuse of masculine power. This inflation is then characterized as a projection—the TV screen—and a teenaged girl, what the exaggerated masculine, in its high and mighty state, reduces the feminine to, a sex object. The death of the young girl and that projection point to the need to destroy that projection, allowing for the mature feminine to assume its rightful place. There was, in my dream, after all, nothing wrong with the sturdy women’s backboard!

The backboard and hoop are the circle and square of the mandala, the ancient symbol of wholeness that points the way to individuation. The appearance of this symbol and the action connected with it—a repair that destroys an immature feminine projection and brings the exaggerated masculine down to earth from its highly inflated state—are the necessary actions to create the hermaphroditic condition of equally containing these opposing forces in one being, i.e., in one space, the shared basketball court.

Of course, this containment is not the final resolution. One can imagine that once the hoops are properly mounted according to my dream—in the corner—that the masculine and feminine players will have to find their appropriate places and relations with each other to reach a harmonious solution to their competing needs in order to play the game in that cornered situation. This indeed will be Hillary’s task should she be elected. The Dionysian energy demanding genuine change that Trump has tapped into, that is indeed needed, must be incorporated with the balanced steadiness of her mature mind. This will be an evolving process should it come to pass.

On the other hand, Trump’s one-sided passion is such a throwback to the ethnic cleansing of Hitler’s regime, a volatility that the world can hardly afford in our fragile times. The challenge to world survival requires world unification. Only leadership that begins with hermaphroditic inclusiveness has the potential to evolve into a much-needed union of masculine and feminine. May the right being be elected.



Chuck’s Place: Finding The True Heart

Don Juan’s fundamental guidance to Carlos Castaneda was to choose a path with heart, for “a path with heart is easy—it does not make a warrior work at liking it; it makes for a joyful journey; as long as a man [or woman] follows it, he [she] is one with it.” *

We all have a two-part heart... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
We all have a two-part heart…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Here don Juan speaks to what Sri Aurobindo called being in alignment with the Divine Spark, the Psychic Being hidden in the cave at the center of the heart chakra. To realize the truth of this Divine Spark as one’s path in this life is to truly find and traverse one’s path with heart. And yet, the heart is of two parts, its emotional side offering “an obscure and often uncertain and misleading power,” as Aurobindo states, as well as behind that emotional heart, “a profounder mystic light which, if not what we call intuition…has yet a direct touch upon Truth and is nearer the Divine that the human intellect in its pride of knowledge.” ** This second, mystical heart, is the heart that is hidden in the cave at the center of the heart chakra, this is the true heart that seeks and recognizes a path with heart.

On a physical level the heart is the center of life and vitality in the body. There is no physical life without a heartbeat. The movement of the heart distributes energy to every cell of the body to enable all cells to act. This action extends to emotional life, where feelings spur human action and interaction.

Aurobindo states: “…there is in front in men a heart of vital emotion similar to the animal’s, if more variously developed; its emotions are governed by egoistic passion, blind instinctive affections and all the play of the life-impulses with their imperfections, perversions, often sordid degradations,—heart besieged and given over to the lusts, desires, wraths, intense or fierce demands or little greeds and mean pettinesses of an obscure and fallen life-force and debased by its slavery to any and every impulse.” **

Here Aurobindo refers to the heart’s action capacity as being under the dominance of the three lower chakras, animal instincts ruled by the archetypal governances or gods of the planetary being at its purely survival mode, as well as a mixture of ego-willfulness supplanting nature’s imperative to its own self-serving ends. (See last week’s blogpost for further explanation: Beyond Archetypal Bondage)

Here arises confusion at the heart center, for though the emotional heart dominates through much of life this irrational emotive center is incapable of guiding the true needs of the Self, the higher being that we all are. This part of the heart chakra, with all its powerful emotionality, provides the justification for the rise to order and reason of the rational mind, as it insists on its superiority and hegemony over the vagaries of the feeling heart.

Rationality is like a predator, constantly swooping in to reassert its presence... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Rationality is like a predator, constantly swooping in to reassert its presence…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Aurobindo comments: “This mixture of the emotive heart and the sensational hungering vital creates in man a false soul of desire; it is this that is the crude and dangerous element which the reason rightly distrusts and feels a need to control, even though the actual control or rather coercion it succeeds in establishing over our raw and insistent vital nature remains always very uncertain and deceptive.” ***

Unfortunately, attempts at rational control over emotive behavior, or cognitive behavioral therapy, rarely quell the base impulses raging in the heart. More often than not they are sentenced to the prison of the shadow unconscious where they lie in wait, scheming their next disruptive moves. The apparent calm after the storm is generally short-lived.

How many times couples find themselves immediately reignited in a conflict, after a voluntary break for calming and cooling, reflects the thin veil of control reason holds over the fiery energy of an ignited heart.

Though reason might offer a pause, it cannot settle matters of the true heart. For don Juan, reason would be a false path, not the path that could be guided by spirit. How then does one go about achieving the quiet heart, of locating “the true invisible heart hidden in the luminous cave” *** of the heart center, and truly find a path with heart.

Tibetan Buddhism has developed the practice of Tonglen breathing where the fire of emotion is allowed to burn off and transform in the heart center, through breathing in the fire that wants to attack or attach outwardly and breathing out a cooler breath of compassion. This is an alchemical process of transforming emotional heat into the steady flame of cool luminosity utilizing the heart chamber as the retort, or flask, to burn off the impurities of the lower chakras to arrive at truth and compassion. Once we find our way to true compassion, compassion that is not tainted with sympathy, empathy, or guilt, we’ve entered the cave of objective truth where the cool Divine Spark glows in all its luminosity.

Behind the known heart lies the cave of the luminous heart... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Behind the known heart lies the cave of the luminous heart…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

The I Ching in the hexagram Ken, the Mountain, hints at the practice of yoga as a method to still the restlessness of the heart, another alchemical process. Regardless of methodology, the essence of an alchemical practice is to contain the energy of the lower chakras that would drive the heart to outbursts of emotive activity. Through containment of this emotional energy a transformation takes place whereby the cave of the hidden mystical heart appears. Then the Psychic Being, the true higher Self, is available to come forth and take the reins in right action.

In opening access to the true heart chakra where the Psychic Being resides, that inmost link to Divine Soul, only truth and compassion flow. As Aurobindo states: “It is as this psychic being in him grows and the movements of the heart reflect its divinations and impulsions that man becomes more and more aware of his soul, ceases to be a superior animal, and, awakening to glimpses of the godhead within him, admits more and more its intimations of a deeper life and consciousness and an impulse towards things divine.” ****

The path to unveil the hidden heart is truly the path with heart.

With compassion,

* The Wheel of Time, Castaneda, p. 19
** The Psychic Being, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, p 26
*** The Psychic Being, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, p 27
**** The Psychic Being, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, p 27-28

Chuck’s Place: The Opus of OCD

Alchemy in nature... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Alchemy in nature…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be viewed as the psyche’s attempt to achieve its wholeness through the ego’s encounter with its projections upon the outside world. On the surface this might appear contradictory to the debilitating impact of obsessions and compulsions, but a deeper understanding of the psyche’s drive for perfection, through the challenge of sorting through this disorder, may serve to redirect the focus of these powerful debilitations toward the far greater opus of achieving wholeness.

Carl Jung spent much of his professional career rescuing the archaic texts of alchemy from obscurity and through channeling alchemical information from the Akashic Records through various alchemical characters of his active imagination. Many astute clinical scholars have been utterly perplexed at the clinical usefulness of these musings. Jung never cared much for making his discoveries easily understood; he was an avid explorer of the unconscious who left for the future the task of discerning their pragmatic utility. Hardly a scholar, I find myself nonetheless tasked with making some of his discoveries relevant. And so, with OCD I find incredible alchemical relevancy.

Alchemy was, in an outer sense, the precursor of modern chemistry. But at its inner core, alchemy was the mystical tradition of many renowned scientists—Sir Isaac Newton among them—who sought to experience and resolve the mysteries of the soul. The opus of the alchemist was to take matter and transform it through a series of processes into gold, the symbol of ultimate value. These processes involved the differentiation, purification and synthesis of opposing elements into a cohesive whole. Similarly, the goal of human life is to reconcile the great polarities of living in this world with the energetic dimension beyond this world to achieve a golden wholeness of completion.

The alchemist started with matter in all its impurities—called the nigredo—that is, matter in its completely contaminated, mixed up state. It was then subjected to a series of alchemical operations to reach the full purity of gold. These purification processes included such functions as solutio, the dissolution of matter in water, as well as calcificatio, the burning off of impurities by fire. Jung saw these steps in the process as the alchemist’s projection of their own psyches onto the matter, and their ultimate art as a process of transformation. Transformation requires a sealed container where these operations can be securely housed.

In OCD, the psyche frequently projects the impurity of its internal polarities onto the contents of the material world. This intermingling is analogous to the mixing of the contaminated material at the beginning of the alchemist’s opus. In OCD, powerful compulsions elicit behaviors to separate out this contamination through ritual practices. An individual under the influence of these powerful projections is tormented by the potential danger of contamination and frequently engages the alchemical function of solutio—excessive hand washing, for instance—to rid the self of the impurities of contamination. Eventually, these unconscious projections inundate and ultimately overwhelm and severely restrict even the simplest of functions in daily life.

Beginnings of transformation... - Photo by Jan Ketchel
Beginnings of transformation…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

The opus for OCD treatment becomes one of detaching from the control of, and the automatic infliction of, the projections onto the outer world. The ego cannot control the projections, but it can take a behavioral stand against the compulsions that issue forth from the unconscious. Thus, although an obsession insists that “I’m contaminated” after a handshake, I can refuse to do the cleansing behavior that the compulsion insists upon as a means of relief. The true cleansing, the true purification process rests here, in the ego’s stand for reality over the projective veils of illusion. Here the ego acts as the sealed container for the alchemical process by bearing the tension of the urges of the projective psyche through not following its commands.

In its contained retort, the ego seals in the energy of the projective psyche and bears the mounting tension of its energetic pressure. This mounting pressure, seeking release, is the fire that then burns through the veils of the projective illusions. The substance is clarified and true reality is readied for synthesis into gold. The ego, thus having passed its test, accrues a piece of its lost wholeness. The Opus of OCD meanwhile moves on to its next mysterious projective challenge.

Eventually, the energies of the psyche transform OCD itself into a fact of a former life, no longer an energetic determinant. When that happens, the clarified energetic awareness thus achieved moves forward, freed to see and be in the world as it truly is.

Everything matters,

Chuck’s Place: Forging The Container

Vessels of containment...

In Monday’s channeled message, Jeanne spoke of achieving balance through limitation. In her Wednesday blog, Jan wrote of the alchemical process of transformation through fermentation. The agent of that alchemical change is the limitation of a sealed container that sets the stage for nature to transform. Today, I focus on shaping and curing that sealed container. Like a ceramic vessel heated in a kiln, the container for our inner process of individuation must prove worthy of withstanding the many trials of heat that arise and serve our quest for wholeness.

Since waking this morning, the creative daemon has been stirring: fire energy, trial by fire. Already I’ve seen three people. The universe aligns with the creative daemon as I see its challenge reflected everywhere. I carefully channel it. Now, in an open space of time, it’s time to write my blog, but the creative fires are way too expansive. Everywhere I turn the world is ablaze. If I try to write now, I’ll be taken too far afield. The fire is too unwieldy, ungraspable except in its most gaseous intuitive sense.

The real trial is one of containment, and so I know I must find my way back down to earth, into the containment of the cool soil. I turn to the matter of my physicality, my body container as a form to regulate the fiery energy and expansive pressure of the creative daemon.

I’ve been gifted the images of the praying mantis and Buddha beneath the bodhi tree this morning. Images of stillness. Heeding these messages from the universe, I roll out my yoga mat and facing East, the direction of the rising fireball of the sun, I invoke the stillness of the Buddha and perform the Buddhist magical pass of prostration. Then I sit and engage in yoga pranayama breathing. The mind stills as the fiery energy begins to settle more into the rhythmic waves of the ocean. My awareness flows deeper into connection and regulation of the energy contained within my body. Deepening awareness of blockage and tension flow into softening and release. I move into yoga’s magical passes of asanas, working calmly with the creative fires still vying for my energy, my attention, my awareness.

“Not now,” I tell it. “Now is for forging the calm, preparing the container to channel your creation, your message, in a blog, soon to be undertaken.”

I finish yoga and choose to forego food or a magical walk. The body is calm and I know not to disturb it now. I’m ready to take on and be present with the daemon, to work together in the process of creation.

As I open the door, inviting the daemon in, the energy that greets me is intense. I remind myself to breathe, to unclench my jaw, to pause and release. My body has been forged as the container for this alchemical process of transforming the creative energies within me into a—hopefully—cohesive blog.

Eventually we emerge...changed

The body is our container in this world. The body is the vessel that connects us to the wellspring of our instinctive energies, as well as the infinitude of our energetic essence. When we walk, run, do yoga, golf, go to the gym, do magical passes, swim, exercise or meditate, we are forging our alchemical vessel to better serve our deeply sought after transformation into wholeness. Each time we are overwhelmed by the fires of recapitulation we are challenged to turn to the body container and engage in forging activity, just as I did this morning as I wrestled with the overpowering energy of my creative daemon. Eventually, we discover that out of the container a new calm, cured, self emerges.

Okay, now I can set this down, a message released through the alchemical process of containment. And now I may nourish my physical body in another way, with some fermented food, and then go off to a walking meditation, calmed and slowed by the midday sun for further curing of my vessel.

In calmness and containment,