Monday, June 25, 2012

The Albedo

Being deep in nigredo, a white light appears. We have arrived at the second stage of the Great Work: albedo, or whiteness. The alchemist has discovered within himself the source from which his life comes forth. The fountain of life from which the water of life flows forth giving eternal youth.

(Dirk Gillabel)

Aargh! I really wanted to write on snake and child symbolism but more stuff came up in my dreams recently! Most of my dreams are pretty humdrum - probably having more to do with Fruedian, personal issues - but lately I've been getting more archetypal/collective dreams. Which is cool! And make me feel like I'm making some significant breakthroughs, especially this last one.

The dream focused on images of looking for a partner. I take that to be the search for the coniunctio; the union of the male and female halves, usually internally, i.e. with our animus/anima but occasionally externally with an actual partner or even both at the same time (i.e. sex! and romance!). I've obviously been doing a lot of animus work lately, both internally and externally, and something appears to have changed. While I'm "looking for a partner" suddenly I'm in a giant tree, like the World Tree and all of these images of nature come up.
I go up into the trees. It's precarious. I have to cling on a large bundle or rope of vines, many of which pull off as I pull myself up, but I trust the tree. I know the tree is helping me. All the land is one organism; the large tree, the water, and the rock below it. There is white (in the water). The white gathers. It's connected to the rock (the rock is a solidified whiteness?) I chop out a small slab of the rock and bring it back to the others...
While I was thinking about the dream the first thought in my head was that this was the "albedo" stage referred to in alchemy. Jung realized that alchemy was really a psychological/spiritual compensation for the excessively spiritual emphasis of the dominant Christian religion. In other words alchemy is a description of the path of individuation in symbolic language.
The Great Work (Latin: "Magnum Opus") is an alchemical term for the process of creating the philosopher's stone. It has been used to describe personal and spiritual transmutation in the Hermetic tradition... It originally had four stages:

Nigredo, a blackening or melanosis
Albedo, a whitening or leucosis
Citrinitas, a yellowing or xanthosis
Rubedo, a reddening, purpling, or iosis

...Other color stages are sometimes mentioned, most notably the cauda pavonis (peacock's tail) in which an array of colors appear.

The colors symbolize the various stages a person goes through in the individuation process. And there are four of them - shocker! - or not, as 4 is the number Jung found to represent wholeness in dreams, myths, etc. The four colors are associated with the four Jungian archetypes that characterize these stages; "In the Jungian archetypal schema, nigredo is the Shadow; albedo refers to the anima and animus (contrasexual soul images); citrinitas is the wise old man (or woman) archetype; and rubedo is the Self archetype which has achieved wholeness." (

Nigredo ("Blackening")
Nigredo, or blackness, in alchemy means putrefaction or decomposition... In analytical psychology, the term became a metaphor 'for the dark night of the soul, when an individual confronts the shadow within'.

Albedo ("Whitening")
...Following the chaos or massa confusa of the nigredo stage, the alchemist undertakes a purification in albedo, which is literally referred to as ablutio – the washing away of impurities. In this process, the subject is divided into two opposing principles to be later coagulated to form a unity of opposites or coincidentia oppositorum during rubedo.

Citrinitas ("Yellowing")
[It is the] "transmutation of silver into gold" or "yellowing of the lunar consciousness." In alchemical philosophy, citrinitas stood for the dawning of the "solar light" inherent in one's being, and that the reflective "lunar or soul light" was no longer necessary.

Rubedo ("Reddening")
Rubedo is a Latin word meaning "redness" that was adopted by alchemists to define the fourth and final major stage in the Magnum Opus. Both gold, and the philosopher's stone were associated with the color red, as rubedo signalled alchemical success, and the end of the great work. Rubedo can be interpreted as achieving enlightened consciousness and the total fusion of spirit and matter... In the framework of psychological development (especially followers of Jungian psychology) these four alchemical steps are to be taken as analogous to the process of attaining individuation: In an archetypal schema, rubedo would represent the Self archetype, and would be the culmination of the four stages. The Self manifests itself in "wholeness," a point in which a person discovers his or her true nature.

Midnight Sun

There are many other symbols in alchemy for the second phase, or albedo: the white swan, the rose, the white queen, and so on. As lead is the metal of nigredo, silver is the metal of albedo, transmuted from lead. As silver is the metal of the moon, the moon was also a symbol for albedo. Alchemists also talk about the white stone or white tincture. They all means basically the same thing, although one has to understand them in the context in which they were written.

So... It looks like the (*mumble mumble curse*) nigredo phase I've been going through is letting up. And it certainly feels that way; even when thinking about work, or G, I don't feel torn and angsty anymore, just peaceful. Jung said that we don't get rid of our problems, we outgrow them, and this certainly seems to be happening (yay!) Also, the bit about the albedo in the white stone or the tincture reminds me of the white in the water, and how it was in the stone. Will need to do more thinking (and living) on this as all this albedo stuff is really new for me - I'm sure lots more stuff will come up in the future!

At any rate, now that the albedo phase appears to be coming up I did a bit of searching around on it. This is what Dirk Gillabel of House of the Sun has to say about it (the quotes in the rest of this post come from him, too):
Albedo happens when the Sun rises at midnight. It is a symbolic expression for the rising of the light at the depth of darkness. It is the birth of Christ in the middle of the winter. In the depth of a psychological crises, a positive change happens.
This reminds me of The Star and The Moon cards in the Tarot: The Star for obvious reasons (the light shining in the dark) but The Moon, too. The next stage, Citrinitas, talks about changing the white to yellow, the lunar consciousness to the sun. And both of these cards comes right before the Sun in the Tarot. This makes me think that this lunar awareness, which is what light is, comes before the solar; i.e., we become aware of things internally and then we live them in the world (?)

The Fountain

The source is one: male and female are united. In alchemical images we see a fountain from which two streams of water flow into one basin.

This brings me to the second apparent aspect of the albedo stage. I don't have as good a feel for this as I do for the "midnight sun," which I definitely feel in my own life and consciousness, but this is something that frequently comes up, that of the splitting into two, i.e., animus/anima work.

I feel like I was going through a bunch of animus work along with my nigredo/shadow phase... although that may have been because it was so much a part of my shadow. I think the concept is that once you deal with depression and darkness, then you're ready for working through issues of union. This makes a lot of sense to me even though I don't feel like I really know what this is talking about; until we deal with our shadow, all of our animus/anima work, whether internally or with others, will really be working on shadow issues. We'll either project our bright shadow onto our partner and be infatuated, or our dark shadow onto them and hate them. It's only after integrating our shadow that we can work on separating out the male/female.
The union of Hermes and Aphrodite. The moon is above the retort, indicating this is the stage of Albedo. The sun above is the next stage of Rubedo. At the same time sun and moon are again the opposites to be united. Aphrodite has two torches. One pointing down, representing the lower passions to be transmuted. The upside down torch is the purified energies. Aphrodite is standing on a tetrahedron, the perfect three dimensional body, as all corners are equally distant from each other, resulting in a lack of tension.

As we mentioned above, Aphrodite/Venus as the morning star is a central image for the albedo phase of the Great Work. Aphrodite was born from the foam that arose when the genitals of Uranus (cut of by Chronos, out of hate and jealousy) fell into the sea. The cutting of the genitals represents repressed and tormented love. The sea, symbol of the soul, however will bring forth the love goddess. Liberation will happen when we become conscious again of the contents of the soul. As Aphrodite is born from the sea, she is the guide through the fearful world of the unconscious (the sea, or the underworld). The alchemist descends into these depths to find the ‘prima materia’, also called the ‘green lion’. The color green refers to the primal life forces. Venus also has the green color. An important characteristic of Aphrodite is that she helps us in our human shortcomings. She gives ideals and dreams to fulfill. But she also gives frightening images in order to make man aware of his lower nature. "By her beauty Venus attracts the imperfect metals and gives rise to desire, and pushes them to perfection and ripeness." (Basilius Valentinus, 1679) Liberation can only happen by becoming conscious of the lower nature and how we transmute it.

In Jungian psychology Venus/Aphrodite is the archetype of the anima (in alchemy also the ‘soror’ or ‘wife’ of the alchemist). The anima is the collective image of the woman in a man. It is an image especially tainted by his first contact with his mother. The anima represents all the female tendencies in the psyche of a man, such as feelings, emotions, moods, intuition, receptivity for the irrational, personal love and a feeling for nature. She is the bearer for the spiritual. Depending on the development of the man she can also be the seductress who lures him away to love, hopelessness, demise, and even destruction.

Other alchemical images for albedo are baptism and the white dove, both derived from Christianity. Baptism symbolizes the purification of both body and soul by ‘living water’. ‘Living water’ was regarded as the creative force of the divine. It allowed the soul to be received into the community of the holy spirit. Thus baptism allows the purified soul to bring forth the resurrection of Christ in oneself. This is the ‘hieros gamos’, the ‘sacred marriage’ between the soul and Christ. Christ here represent our own inner divine essence.

This union seems to be about many things; one's relationship with one's internal contrasexual partner, one's relationship with one's external partner, but also about body and spirit and other pairs in one's life. My dream specifically talked about "looking for a partner" so I assume this is going to continue to be an important part of my growth.

Not sure what else I have to say about this topic - this post is just a preliminary exploration of the Albedo. I'll write more as more comes up.


Something that occurred to me on re-reading this post; the coniunctio doesn't have to do with sex, even with the internal, contrasexual part of us (i.e., the animus, or anima.) It could be anything which is complex and split in our lives which we need to heal and bring into a higher union (very dialectical materialism-esqe.) For example, a couple oppositions/tensions in my life right now are:
  • the internal world and the external
  • play/rest and work
  • youth and age
I think that the male/female opposition, while it can be about our relationship with the other sex, whether internal or external, is also a powerful symbol of all the oppositions in our lives. This albedo stage is where we're separating out the confused mass of the nigredo, like Psyche with the seeds. Then, during the rubedo stage, we can see where there is an underlying and higher unity.


  1. Your writings are amazing, thank you so much for all i have gleaned so far, and i will be back:)
    I wonder where you are now?
    I found you when looking for the symbolism of the White owl, something that happened to me at the start of the most desimating of this path for me, well i found out more than i ever dreamed i would, again, thank you, only now i have found so much i want to read that you have written. x J

    1. Thank you so much! I know, I really need to get back to writing - for a while nothing was really happenening, and now stuff is happening and I keep finding things to write about, but too many! I will get back on the horse, though.

      Thanks again for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  2. At some point a break with the common perception of reality is needed. For some time some of us thought that happiness would lie on someone, something, some achievement and then we understand and then we realize that we were chasing shadows, playing inside some illusion. To realize that is to experience heaven and hell at the same time; but "heaven" and "hell" only exists in opposition to each other. We think of Nigredo and Albedo using linear time, but linearity doesn't apply to the alchemical phases as we normally perceive time.

    1. I'm definitely learning that what I think it is that I'm pursuing "out there" (i.e. in the "real" world) is generally something that I really am trying to deal with in the inner, psychological world. The stuff I'm going through with my romantic entanglement is a perfect example: yes, there's stuff I need to learn to deal with with the actual person but what I'm *really* trying to build a relationship with is my animus. I think a lot of these things are like that.


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