Alchemy: The Soul of Metals

Alchemy: The Soul of Metals

…perhaps the metals take pleasure in their alterations and enjoy the discipline imposed upon them by extracting their ore-bodies and the smelting (Hillman 491).

The soul spelunker is always searching for treasure beneath the surfaces of things. In the alchemical inquiry, one is richly rewarded in this endeavor. The metals of alchemy, because they are animaterial substances, correspond to the gods, just as their associated planets do. In fact, all things can be imagined back to a specific god. In the previous article, I touched upon the planetary associations of the seven noble metals:

Moon    Mercury   Venus    Sun    Mars    Jupiter    Saturn

silver      mercury    copper  gold   iron      tin           lead
As far as we know, these correspondences have been in use since circa 2000 B.C.E. Needless to say, they are deeply rooted in the human soul. Ancient mankind formed these associations because they keenly intuited the interconnectedness of all things. So, for example, it was perfectly natural to link the Moon with the shiny metal, silver. It reminded the ancient mind of the silvery moon. Gold, as well, glistens like the Sun. It would be very surprising if the ancients had not constructed these correspondences.

Others are not so obvious. For instance, why did the ancients associate lead with Saturn? Saturn is known as the Greater Malefic, meaning that it can cause a great deal of damage to the soul. But, yet, as Ficino believed, “within Saturn’s heaviness lay the treasures of deep religious contemplation and artistic genius” (Moore 165). To the ancients, it was the farthest planet away from the earth, thus it took the longest time to make its journey through the zodiac, about 30 years. Part of Saturn’s malevolence lies in its association with melancholy. Lead is a very poisonous metal. It it heavy and dense. It has been used in the making of bullets and caskets. These are a few reasons why it has been associated with Saturn. The souls of Saturn and lead are connected at a very deep level. As with all things of the soul, however, even malefic gods have their positive aspects. If one can successfully bear the saturnine weight of melancholy, gloom, and dread through to the other side, there are great rewards to be had.

Metals have souls, thus they possess an entelechy. Soul is the entelechy of all animaterial things. It is the telos, an innate urge in animatter to become what it truly is meant to become. The telos of an entelechy is not to be understood as a static endpoint. The notion here is that the entelechy is a “continuous being-at-work.” An animaterial entity does not suddenly arrive at full completion and then remains static. The process is endless. This applies to the alchemical metals, as well as all things. Hillman writes,

The inherent perfectibility of the substances urges all things away from the literal, undifferentiated, and only natural as given or found. The “only natural” may be necessary, but it is insufficient, since the metals themselves ask to be sophisticated. The given soul asks to be worked. In its natural found state the soul is innocent, ignorant, and therefore dangerous. That the material itself asks to be refined, the raw wanting to be cooked, suggests an archetypal basis for the ideas of perfectibility, progress, and as well, evolution (Hillman 503).

The alchemist knows there is inherent value in the lead or the iron. Her opus is to uncover the essential nature of the metal that has been concealed by its mundane material state.  Whether it be slag or seemingly worthless ore, the soul of the metal is sought by the adept who sees the treasure beneath the surface.

The practitioner seeks not only to free the metal from its dross but to free the meanings of the metal, their linkages with the intelligibility of the cosmos (ibid.).

Assisting the metals, or any other animaterial substance, in becoming what they are meant to be by nature means the alchemist is furthering the making of the Anima Mundi. This is soul-making on a cosmic scale. As each thing is revealed for what it truly is, the world, little by little, becomes more intelligible and understandable. The vision of the alchemist is not to produce gold and silver for personal gain, but to bring the world into a sort of golden age. Nature has always worked toward an epoch of soul. The labor is commonly referred to as the opus contra naturam, a work against nature, but it is actually “a following of nature, guided by nature” (Hillman 516). The gods in all things are ever laboring to bring it about.

Works Cited

Hillman, James. Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman
Volume 5: Alchemical Psychology, Kindle edition. Dallas: Spring, 2013.

Moore, Thomas. The Planets Within. Hudson: Lindisfarne, 1990.

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