Saturday, October 10, 2015

Further Alchemical Explorations from the Laboratory of Bollingen

It should be noted first of all, that this entry is not announcing a newly published book, nor even a newly discovered one over which I am enrapt with the initial thralls of excitement. I first read this book nearly 30 years ago, and while I have several of this author's titles lying about, it was actually the discovery that my copy of this book had somehow gone missing that lead me to consider recommending that others read it.

Those who know me well know that from time to time I will extoll the wisdom of that great Mage, the man who crafted the modern Temple of the Sun, Moon, and Soul, at Bollingen with his own hands, which should qualify him as a mason far more legitmately than most who claim that title today.

Of course, I refer to the Arch Druid, Spiritual Artificer, Alchemist, and Grand Necromancer of the modern era, whom we all know by his mundane name of Dr. Carl G. Jung. Those who know little of him will describe him as a psychologist, and are comfortable dismissing him thusly, probably thinking the title is defined in the terms of one of his teachers, Freud, with whom he ultimately disagreed, and not with any definition that describes how Jung himself took over that mantle and radically changed the ways in which we study and understand the human psyche.

However, I am not in this entry recommending any of Jung's books. Rather, I am recommending a title written by a life time student and collaborator of Jung's, Marie Louise von Franz.  One of my favorite of her titles, On Divination and Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance (Studies in Jungian Psychology), published in 1980, afforded my eyes a magical glimpse into the mechanics of our world, but one which I would recommend even more to any Mason, is the brief focus of this blog entry. I refer to is a small book called Alchemical Active Imagination, which was first published in 1979.

At least a handful of Masons, and certainly a few I know will have read to some level of depth, the works of Carl Jung. Of course, he was the man who more than anyone else, including his early mentor Sigmund Freud, made modern Psychology what it is. But as we have been reminded with the final publication of his master work, The Red Book (Liber Novus), he was also a Master Magician of the Psyche. At the heart of all this was Jung's interest in Alchemy and Gnosticism.

Jung's early publication, The Seven Sermons to the Dead (Septem Sermones ad Mortuos) which represents perhaps the central core of his Red Book, deals with a gnostic view of wisdom and also reflects the benefits of his approach to Alchemical studies.

From the liner notes of Alchemical Active Imagination:
Although alchemy is popularly regarded as the science that sought to transmute base physical matter, many of the medieval alchemists were more interested in developing a discipline that would lead to the psychological and spiritual transformation of the individual. C. G. Jung discovered in his study of alchemical texts a symbolic and imaginal language that expressed many of his own insights into psychological processes. In this book, Marie-Louise von Franz examines a text by the sixteenth-century alchemist and physician Gerhard Dorn in order to show the relationship of alchemy to the concepts and techniques of analytical psychology. In particular, she shows that the alchemists practiced a kind of meditation similar to Jung's technique of active imagination, which enables one to dialogue with the unconscious archetypal elements in the psyche. Originally delivered as a series of lectures at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, the book opens therapeutic insights into the relations among spirit, soul, and body in the practice of active imagination.

A primary field of interest and writing of hers was alchemy, which von Franz always contextualized with Jungian psychological perspectives. She edited, translated and commented on Aurora Consurgens, attributed to Thomas Aquinas on the problem of opposites in alchemy and in her final years, she commented extensively on the Arabic alchemical manuscript of Muḥammad Ibn Umail Hal ar-Rumuz (Book of the explanation of the symbols). For alchemists, imaginatio vera was an important approach to matter. It resembles in many aspects the active imagination as elucidated by C. G. Jung. Marie-Louise von Franz lectured in 1969 about active imagination and alchemy and also wrote about it in in Man and His Symbols. Active imagination may be described as conscious dreaming. In Man and His Symbols, she described it as follows:

Active imagination is a certain way of meditating imaginatively, by which one may deliberately enter into contact with the unconscious and make a conscious connection with psychic phenomena.
A third field of interest and research was about synchronicity, psyche and matter, and numbers. It seems to have been triggered by Jung, whose research had led him to the hypothesis about the unity of the psychic and material worlds, i.e., that they are one and the same, just different manifestations.

For this and many other reasons, both von Franz' and Jung's work on Active Imagination, Gnosticism, and Alchemy should be considered reading material of high priority for Freemasons. In my own case, I tend to view the Jungian approach to Alchemy and Gnostic understanding of greater contemporary value than the more traditional approaches to Alchemy. As much as I love ritual, I know that all too many can get lost in it and never come to recognize its purpose. When one engages Jung's psychological approaches in depth, one in essence is exploring a modern extrapolation of the Masonic journey. One may wish to bear in mind that Jung's grandfather was not only a Master Mason, but a Grand Master of the Swiss Lodge, and may be forgiven for imagining that he had some awareness of Masonic studies as a result.

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