Thursday, December 19, 2013

Calcinatio

Love is a devil. Love is an angel. Love is a demon who lies and says that if only you have it, all your desires will be met. Everything will be perfect. Love lies that finally, now you’ll be happy. That only with it can you be happy. If only you have it. Love is the doorway to God. It’s the trap that lures you out of your safe harbor, to risk everything… and then lose it all. Because only love is strong enough to make you risk everything, so that in the end, you can gain the world. Because the truth of the matter is this; only by losing everything can you find your Self. And love is the doorway, and the lure, to start that journey.


I felt compelled to write this on my iPhone the other day. Yes, this whole love thing is still working on me... Dammit!

Things were going super well with G. Then all of the sudden he's avoiding and ignoring me, and I'm flipping out. I thought I was over this... Wasn't I already over this??? Well, apparently not. But a lot of really amazing things have come out of this latest experience; the biggest one is the realization that this is a calcinatio experience, the stage in alchemy where you're heated up until all the impurities are burned off. Which is strangely how I've been feeling lately (not during, though - during it I was a hot mess!) And everything I read, despite the fact that I was re-reading everything, seemed to have something to say about it. It's incredible how that works - if it's a really good book then every time you read it you'll get something new and amazing out of it.

I was (re-)reading Edinger's Anatomy of the Psyche when, right at the very beginning of the book, he talks about the calcinatio.

What turns the ashes of failure into the crown of victory is indicated by the fact that ash is alchemically equivalent to salt. The symbolism of salt has been discussed comprehensively by Jung (Mysterium Coniunctionis, paras. 234 – 238). Basically salt symbolizes Eros and appears in one of two aspects, either as bitterness or as wisdom. Jung writes: “Tears, sorrow, and disappointment are bitter, but wisdom is the comforter in all psychic suffering. Indeed, bitterness and wisdom form a pair of alternatives: where there is bitterness wisdom is lacking, and where wisdom is there can be no bitterness. Salt, as the carrier of this fateful alternative, is coordinated with the nature of woman.” This piece of modern wisdom has an ancient parallel in Aeschylus:

In visions of the night, like dropping rain,
Descend the many memories of pain
Before the spirit’s sight; through tears and dole
Comes wisdom o’er the unwilling soul.


From the simplest standpoint, calcinatio is a drying-out process. An important part of psychotherapy involves the drying out of water-logged unconscious complexes. The fire or emotional intensity necessary for this operation seems to reside in the complex itself and becomes operative as soon as the patient attempts to make the complex conscious by sharing it with another person. All thoughts, deeds, and memories that carry shame, guilt or anxiety need to be given full expression. The affect liberated becomes the fire that can dry out the complex and purify it of its unconscious contamination.

The necessary frustration of desirousness or concupiscence is the chief feature of the calcination stage. First the substance must be located; that is, the unconscious, unacknowledged desire, demand, expectation must be recognized and affirmed. The instinctual urge that says “I want” and “I am entitled to this” must be fully accepted by the ego. There can be no proper calcinatio, as distinguished from masochistic self-flagellation, until the proper material is at hand. I think this is what underlies the following warning of an alchemist: “A great many students make the mistake at the very outset, by performing this calcinatio on a wrong substance;… or they choose a false method, and corrode instead of calcining the metallic bodies on which they operate. Calcination can take place only by means of the inward heat of the body, assisted by friendly outward warmth; but calcination by means of a heterogeneous agent can only destroy the metallic nature, in so far as it has any effect at all.
(p. 42)

The three texts quoted will suffice to demonstrate the nature of the substance to be calcined. It is called variously a “ravening wolf,” “black faeces,” a “dragon,” and a “mighty Ethiopian.” These terms tell us that the calcination is performed on the primitive shadow side, which harbors hungry, instinctual desirousness and is contaminated with the unconscious. The fire for the process comes from the frustration of these instinctual desires themselves. Such an ordeal of frustrated desire is a characteristic feature of the developmental process.
(p. 21)

What this whole experience has driven home is the utter importance of keeping all of these feelings contained inside yourself. Not bottled up; you can't try to not have them, or not feel them. And not sloppily flung out all over everyone around you either. I literally envision the alchemist's retort inside me, from throat to groin, and I pull everything I'm feeling together and force it in there. Sometimes I have to go inside myself but usually just containing the feelings is enough. And what's happening is that, as these feelings are contained, and after they've bubbled and boiled and then eventually burned themselves out, something is left behind. I don't know how to describe the feeling other than that it reminds me of the kind of emptiness/fullness you feel after a really big crying jag, when you're exhausted and everything is clean inside, and you feel like you can finally feel everything as it really is after a long, long, long time. Jung described the process like this:

In this transformation it is essential to take objects away from those animus or anima devils. They only become concerned with objects when you allow yourself to be self-indulgent. Concupiscentia is the term for that in the church… On this subject the great religions come together. The fire of desirousness is the element that must be fought against in Brahmanism, in Buddhism, in Tantrism, in Manicheanism, in Christianity. It is also important in psychology. When you indulge in desirousness, whether your desire turns towards heaven or hell, you give the animus or anima an object; then it comes out into the world instead of staying inside in its place… But if you can say: yes, I desire it and I shall try to get it but I do not have to have it, if I decide to renounce, I can renounce it; then there is no chance for the animus or anima. Otherwise you are governed by your desires, you are possessed… But if you have put your animus or anima into a bottle you are free of possession, even though you may be having a bad time inside, because when your devil has a bad time you have a bad time... Of course he will rumble around in your entrails. But after a while you will see that it was right (to bottle him up). You will slowly become quiet and change. Then you will discern that there is a stone growing in the bottle… insofar as self-control, or non-indulgence, has become a habit, it is a stone… when that attitude becomes a fait accompli, the stone will be a diamond.

(p. 44)

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