From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Alchemical Studies is a book by Carl Jung, first published in 1967. It discusses the philosophical and religious aspects of alchemy, as the pseudo-science was introduced more closely as a religion than a science. His concluding statement is that as alchemy became virtually shunned out of existence, the investigation of the human psyche went undiscovered for several hundred years.
I: Commentary on "The Secret of the Golden Flower"
In the opening section of the book, Jung states that "Science is the tool of the Western mind... and it obscures our insight only when it claims that the understanding it conveys is the only kind there is." In this chapter, he investigates ancient Chinese philosophy [mostly the Tao], the detachment of consciousness from the object and corresponding alchemic studies. The golden flower is the light, and the light of heaven is the Tao. Jung mentions that a fatal error in modern thought is that "we believe we can criticize the facts of religion intellectually... we think God is a hypothesis that can be subjected to intellectual treatment, to be affirmed or denied."
II: The Visions of Zosimos
Most of this chapter is devoted to a translation of Zosimos' texts, who was an important alchemist and Gnostic of the third century AD from Panapolis. The translated text is mostly about a series of dreams Zosimos had, where he uses homunculi as personifications of the elements used in alchemy. The homunculi [known as the Leaden Man, the Brazen Man, etc.], often "submit [themselves] to unendurable torment" to undergo alchemic transformation; one homunculus Ion, [the founder of the Sabaean religion] mutilates himself by tearing "his flest with his own teeth" and sinking into himself, which Jung perceived as a personification of the uroboros, the dragon which bites its own tail. He sees more homunculi boiling themselves alive in water, as they "seek to obtain the art" [art being: moral perfection]. Another homunculus [the leaden man] sets himself on fire and his eyes fill with blood. Most of these "transformations" take place at an altar in the "place of punishments". He ends with the statement that "nature applied to nature transforms nature. Such is the order of natural law throughout the whole cosmos, and thus all things hang together."
After translating the text and including many footnotes about the historical/religious references within, including Jung's own notes to help clarify what's going on, he applies his studies of the psyche and the collective unconscious to the text's "true meaning." He enterprets the sacrificial act as the torment of hell, as the text has many parallels to apocalyptic texts such as the Apocalypse of Elijah, and since many sacrificial acts [used soully for religious purposes] are meant to put nature in balance [example: every year in Athens an ox was slaughtered and skinned, its pelt stuffed with straw. The corpse was fastened to a plough, for the purpose of restoring the fertility of the land]. Jung also makes the following connections: sun is synonymous with gold, water is synonymous with spirit, homunculus is synonymous with the uroboros [which devours itself and gives birth to itself], and Zosimos' text deals briefly with the philosopher's stone, as he mentions its lapis-christ symbolism, its incorruptibility and such. Jung's final conclusion is that "chemistry has nothing to learn from the vision of Zosimos", but modern psychology does.
III: Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon
Here Jung focuses on the texts of Paracelsus, who was "infuriated beyond measure by the resistance of his opponents and made enemies everywhere."Template:Citation needed Most of his writings were "violently rhetorical" and his mannerism of speaking was forceful, as if the reader was listening unwillingly. Jung had great difficulty deciphering the text because Paracelsus would tend to use "a magical witch-language" without giving any rational explanation as to what it actually means [example: instead of zwirnfaden [twine] he says swindafnerz, instead of nadel [needle] he uses dallen, instead of leiche [corpse] Chely.] Jung also notes that "in magical rites the inversion of letters serves the diabolical purpose of turning the divine order into an infernal disorder."Template:Citation needed Jung notes that Paracelsus had no notion of psychology, but affords "deep insights into psychic events which the most up-to-date psychology is only now struggling to investigate again."Template:Citation needed
He also investigates Paracelsus' the Iliaster and its three forms: sanctitus [from sancire to make unalterable or inviolable], paratetus [possibly from παραιτέομαι to obtain by prayer], and magnus. The Iliaster, according to Paracelsus, was a key to longevity, although Jung saw it more like a principle of individuation.
IV: The Spirit Mercurius
V: The Philosophical Tree