“Jungs interest in alchemy began around the same time that Silberer was doing his research. He kept having a dream in which he saw that his house had another wing which he never noticed before. Jung eventually managed to gain access to this undiscovered part of the house to find that it contained a magnificent library. Upon closer inspection, he found that the books all of which were leather bound folios from the fifteen and sixteenth centuries, contained alchemical diagrams and texts.
Jung Began to study alchemical books during his waking hours, and came to believe that the alchemist was not so much trying to create precious materials from base in the laboratory, as to redeem matter. He wrote:
“The Alchemical operations were real, only this reality was not physical but psychological. Alchemy represents the projection of a drama both cosmic and spiritual in laboratory terms. The Opus Magnum had two aims: the rescue the human soul, and the salvation of the cosmos.”
The work of the Opus Magnum (The Great Work) was therefore psychological. He became convinced that the Nigredo; or the initial black chaotic stage of the work, was infact the unconscious. The various stages of the work are, according to Jung, stages in what he called the individuation, or the psychological process that marks the growth of a personality into a balanced maturity.
In the first stage, the matter is cooked in the vessel. This corresponds im Jung’s view, to a personal crisis that threatens to destroy the personality. Yet in order for the sufferer to recover fully, the personality will have to be destroyed anyway but voluntarily. This surrender of the ego is vital to the process’ ability to heal and brings to mind the dictum stressing that in order for the work to be successful, the alchemist needs to be humble (ego free).
In the later stages of the work, the self is purified, which would correspond to the albedo or whitening of the matter and in the Citrinitas stage the individual would continue on their path of recovery through learning to become grounded again. The final stage, that of Rubedo would involve a complete integration and acceptance of the persons experiences and personality. Jung held that we all go through this process many times through the course of our life.”
– Sean Martin (Alchemy & Alchemists)