Alchemical Psychology: Towards a Vermillion Nobility of Soul
With this contemplative course we will actively engage with James Hillman’s Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition, Volume 5). “Ever since Jung opened the door to alchemy for psychologists,” writes Hillman, “we have tended to go through it in only one direction. We apply our directed thinking to its fantasy thinking, translating its images into our concepts.” Suggesting that there is another way, one that doesn’t call for translation, Hillman instead invites us to “speak to the dreams as the dreams themselves speak.” The word “dream” here, as he uses it, means “the dream, or fantasy, within behavior,” in addition to those lit-up images revealed to us while sleeping. This, he contends, is what Carl Jung meant by “dreaming the myth along.” In order to dream the myth along, we need to “speak dreamingly, imagistically–and materially.”
Participants are asked to contemplatively read and engage with the particular chapter that corresponds to each month’s class (see the link below to purchase the book on Amazon) while paying mindful attention not only to the evocative material of the text, but also to any memories, dreams, reflections that may occur. By coming into contact with Hillman’s alchemical psychology and by engaging collectively in simple contemplative practices together, we develop our imaginal capacities. At the same time, something utterly unique is invited into being through our willingness to creatively participate in and collectively engage with the vale of soul making.
Each class is three hours long and will be held on one Sunday afternoon per month, from 1-4 PM, over the course of 12 consecutive months. No previous experience or knowledge of contemplative practices is required. The cost is 35.00/month and class size is limited to 10 participants.
Our course follows the same progression of chapters found in the text:
1. Introduction to Alchemical Psychology and Orientation to the Contemplative Practices — June 25, 2017
It’s not a literal return to alchemy that we’re endeavoring, but a restoration project of sorts. What gets restored? An alchemical mode of imagining and our faith in the power of words, that we may recoup “language by returning to speech that matters.” Besides orienting ourselves to the text, we will begin practicing with some basic contemplative practices.
2. Rudiments: Practicing with Fire, Fuel, Metals, Vessels, Ovens and Other Imaginal Equipment — July 23, 2017
By exploring the imaginal equipment and necessary conditions for practicing alchemy, we will endeavor to become “artists of fire” practicing what James Hillman calls “the ardor of internal heat.” As an essential and necessary condition for practicing alchemy, fire “is the mystery of focused consciousness itself.” Do we turn the heat up and sweat it out, or let things cool off for a bit? Add water now, or throw in some sand? And what other essentials are necessary to our imaginal project?
3. The Suffering of Salt — August 20, 2017
While tending to the microcosmic/macrocosmic model of the world, we will endeavor to develop a “micro/macro awareness” that feels into the world of matter “with sensitivity for qualitative differences. ” Because human nature is not separate from the natural world, we go through “natural processes of an objectively mineral and metallic sort.” Thus, perhaps we may learn to not take ourselves so personally, identifying with all that goes on in the soul with our own subjective ego.
4. The Seduction of Black — September 24, 2017
“Only in a physically reduced worldview, a worldview reduced to and by physics,” writes Hillman, “can black be called a non-color, an absence of color, a deprivation of light. This privation definition of black ignores the fact that black appears in broad daylight in naturally given pigments and in other phenomena from charcoal and obsidian to blackberries and animal eyes.” We will endeavor, therefore, to “blacken our eyes,” that is, to see the habitual as mystery, and the apparent as ambiguous, which will result in shifting our fixed ideas into metaphorical images.
5. Alchemical Blue — October 22, 2017
“With the appearance of blue, self-reflective feeling becomes paramount and the paramount feeling is the mournful plaint.” As the black stage begins to decay, it reduces the old ego personality, but it’s a necessary reduction because it prepares the soul to move into the blues of melancholy. As we move into the alchemical blues, therefore, we are invited to slow down and to develop capacities where “soul nurtures an active intelligent spirit and spirit instigates a receptive understanding soul.” For, as Hillman warns, “unless the mind continues its laborious artful practice of solve–dissolving the literal into its fantasy–the mind can become possessed by a single feature of archetypal blue’s imagination.”
6. Silver — November 19, 2017
Silver is the prime ingredient necessary for psychological reflection and, as such, we soon discover, that it’s the key to the whole thing. Exploring the various ways to mine silver, we’ll practice with several contemplative mining methods. And by turning to “those smiths of silver—the poets—as physicians and musicians of the soul” we’ll learn to “lustrate” our ears and to develop faith in whatever’s unfolding.
7. The White Earth — December 10, 2017
“To make the terra alba,” James Hillman suggests, “one must start in the terra alba.” By opening ourselves to a radically different perspective toward grounding and earthing, where the firmament above is considered an “archetypal, angelic ground of the mind,” we discover ourselves newly grounded in this upper firmament with everything else turned around. Whether this turning around involves a kind of seeing-through, expressing things metaphorically, or tracing things back to their imaginal origins, the result is the same: gross matters, including our own, become subtle. Seeing, listening, attending all shift from their previous gross attachments to a new transparency and resonance where things “shine and speak.”
8. The Yellowing of the Work — January 28, 2018
Like numbers, colors may be regarded as having archetypal powers. “They provide a kind of primordial classification of reality.” In this chapter, James Hillman seeks to restore the crucial significance of yellow, thereby returning the practice of alchemy to a fourfold model. By sticking with images as they present themselves, alchemy is taken out of its upward progressive fantasy. By including yellow, and the yellowing that occurs when we work imaginally, the practice of alchemy engages soul in terms of the soul’s own “conditions and motions, neither upward, backward, nor forward.”
9. Concerning the Stone: Alchemical Images of the Goal — February 18, 2018
“In a curious way, you and I crown matter, we have been crowning matter, many times, perhaps since childhood. Recall the stones that we have brought back home from our travels, from a desert, a river-bed or seashore, a temple precinct, the little pebbles smoothened, the strips or stilled granite, the flintstone, mica, plain grey rock, that we as pagan primitives set on our decks and tables and shelves, the unobtrusive occasional altars that have forming in our rooms, remembering beauty, love, the dead, mystery, sadness, hope, attaching the soul with the weight of stone to some specific sensate geography. In this compelling yet offhand urge to pick up and carry home, primordial Adam connects again with the material world’s ordinary beauty. He re-connects, is this not re-ligion? Lifted from the ground, transported inside, singled out and raised in inclination, is this not that exaltation of the material body of the world, which religion calls Resurrection?”
10. The imagination of Air — March 18, 2018
By way of hot-air ballooning, street lighting, and soda water, James Hillman takes us on an airy ride through the Enlightenment in order “to see through the enlightened mind the occulted configurations of imagination at work and expressing themselves by the very means of the age’s own rationalist actions.”
11. The Collapse of Alchemy — April 15, 2018
Alchemy was mainly occupied with the discrimination of earths (as metals), changes in water (distilling, condensing, dissolving, and tincturing) and the art of fire. But by the eighteenth century, wherever the practice of chemistry appears, along with the four elements–earth, water, fire and air–air is no longer considered a true player but instead became something of a “facilitator” “a pressure to keep the flame steady,” or as a “medium for refraction,” and so on. With the age of Enlightenment, air, as “the invisible imagination,” was excluded from participating. This is why, according to James Hillman, rationalism, mechanism, and turgid sentimentality have “no air in them,” no imagination and no invisible presences.
12. The Azure Vault — May 20, 2018
Without reminiscence of the vision that impelled us to seek out Jung in the first place, we are in danger of forgetting that we’re charged with making the Earth. Thus we are invited to claim our alchemical authority, based not merely on the scholarship provided by James Hillman’s visionary text, his insight next to our own and next to Jung’s and alongside other alchemists, but also, suggests Hillman, by opening our “blue visionary minds” to the living, azure vault that renders alchemy and our imaginal engagement with it mutually comprehensible and meaningful.
For more information on the extraordinary work of James Hillman, please visit: http://www.opusarchives.org/collections/
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Alchemical Psychology by James Hillman
James Hillman (1926-2011) was the founder of Archetypal Psychology. His pioneering imaginative psychology spanned five decades. It has entered cultural history, affecting lives and minds in a wide range of fields. For the creativity of his thinking, the author of The Myth of Analysis, Re-Visioning Psychology, The Dream and the Underworld, Healing Fiction, The Soul’s Code, The Force of Character, A Terrible Love of War, and Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book (with Sonu Shamdesani) received many honors, including the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic. He held distinguished lectureships at the Universities of Yale, Princeton, Chicago, and Syracuse, and his books have been translated into some twenty languages.