In my last post, I quoted a paragraph from Jung commenting on Gerhard Dorn’s alchemical philosophy. In it, he uses a very curious phrase. Here is the relevant section:
…the caelum also signifies man’s likeness to God (imago Dei), the anima mundi in matter, and the truth itself (Jung 539).
According to Jung, the caelum is the Philosopher’s Stone, but it is also the anima mundi in matter.
Caelum is the blue sky above us, the vault of heaven, and also includes the Zodiac. It is the metaphorical realm of the gods. It can carry the connotation of “universe,” as well, which we know is infinite. What interests me here is why Jung would say it can mean “the anima mundi in matter.”
All matter in the universe is sprinkled with a sampling of the World Soul. It is hidden. Most do not know or realize it. The consensus of our culture is that matter is cold and dead. A literal mindset, one dominated by logic and the scientific method, cannot understand the idea of soul within matter. The literal mind would explain the azure sky-vault over our heads as being composed of various gases, but a gifted poet could bring tears to our eyes by describing it in language filled with soulful images. James Hillman says that the curse of Western consciousness is the manner in which we speak about matter, but that
Our speech itself can redeem matter if, on the one hand, it de-literalizes (de-substantiates) our concepts, distinguishing between words and things, and if, on the other hand, it re-materializes our concepts, giving them body, sense, and weight (Hillman ch. 1).
The practice of alchemy is so powerful as an esoteric practice because its images cannot be taken literally without plunging our minds into an abyss of total nonsense.
I know I am not composed of sulfur and salt, buried in horse dung, putrefying or congealing, turning white or green or yellow, encircled by a tail-biting serpent, rising on wings. And yet I am! I cannot take any of this literally, even if it is all accurate, descriptively true. Even while the words are concrete, material, physical, it is a patent mistake to take them literally (ibid.).
Metaphorical thinking is forced upon us when we read alchemical writings. Hillman claims this is an example of “the materialization of the psyche and the psychization of matter” (ibid.). Our hermeneutical skills are stretched to their limits, allowing soul and matter to meld into one. Hermeneutics are, of course, named after Hermes. He is the messenger of the gods. He brings to our minds the interpretations we need from the holy places. He travels between our world and the Underworld, bringing knowledge from our deep unconscious.
Hillman, James. Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc. Kindle Edition.
Jung, C.G. Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry Into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy. trans, R.F.C. Hull. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 14. Princeton: Princeton, 1963