Alchemy was not born as a science for its own sake, as we know it today, but it blossoms from the conquest of matter through fire and guards the initiatory secret that unites humanity to heaven. In my new book Dance and Alchemy I take dance back to its alchemical origins. In this article I tell you the origins of these two arts connected with fire and stars.
What is alchemy?
As Jung writes in Psychology and Alchemy, the foundations of alchemy lie in the work of transformation of matter: the Opus Alchemicum. It is a procedure at the origins of modern chemistry, imbued with a philosophical system handed down to the present day through what we could define as a heterogeneous artistic-literary production. These experiments were never an end in themselves, but were accompanied by a very dense and rich vocabulary that included mythological formulas and symbols.
Each alchemist worked in solitude in his own laboratory, where he experimented with his formulas, reconstructed his vocabulary of symbols and combined his mythologies by analogy and metaphor, encompassing a spectrum of knowledge that spanned cultures throughout the known world. The basis of the alchemical process is amplificatio, which is the use of a consciously obscure language that needs to be expanded and amplified in a broader context to become accessible.
The motto of alchemists is, in fact, “Obsurum per obscurius, ignotus per ignotius”.
As we shall see from the next lines of this essay, the language of alchemists must be read through the lens of exegesis. It is necessary to know the dense patrimony of symbols of alchemy in order to have access to its messages and its secrets.
The alchemical process and the five stages of matter
Nigredo, albedo, citrinitas and rubedo (earth, water, air and fire) represent the stages of transformation of matter. With the first stage, nigredo, matter decomposes, it divides again into opposites, it rots. Subsequently, like a new dawn, albedo inaugurates a new season thanks to the resurrection of matter and the image of the cauda pavonis -which holds all the colours in itself-. During the third and fourth stage, the matter boils and changes colour from yellow to red, citrinitas and rubedo, until it reaches Lapis, which is at the same time stone and its solvent, water and fire, that is to say the union of opposites that gives itself as pure transformation.
The Opus Alchemicum is a circular process that involves both the body and the spirit and soul of the alchemist or aspiring alchemist. Through this process, the alchemists were looking for a stone containing a substance from which to obtain argento vivo, namely Lapis, which is able to transform the imperfect state of matter -a state of sleep such as that of the sleepers in Hades- into a perfect and enlightened state. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the most ancient and widespread alchemical symbol is circular: the dragon that bites its tail ouroboros (one, the whole).
Alchemy is born around the fire, along with dance
In fact, right around the fire, the human creature had transcended its original condition, freeing itself from the laws of nature. The keepers of the fire were the first alchemists. In their rites, through death and putrefaction of the world as it was known, they had access to the knowledge of the imperishable and the eternal. The drums of the shamans, the dances of the dancers, the creative arts of the blacksmiths were much more than just tribal tam-tam, they were directly connected with the time, rhythm and motion of the sky.
Now far from the era of the hunter, the human being was a farmer and also a blacksmith. He believed that minerals and metals grew like fruits within the Earth. The miner extracted them prematurely from his belly like an obstetrician bringing embryos to light. Their natural maturing process was interrupted to be speeded up by the keepers of the fire.
Their flames were able to accelerate the rhythms of nature, because those who controlled the fire were responsible for the destiny of humanity.
Read more in my book Dance and Alchemy.