During the third session of the course, while practicing the active imagination exercise, I reimagined the symbols of the house and world tree from Kaballah as interchangeable parts of myself in connection to my inner world and outer world. I had an overwhelming feeling that I was engaging with material that had been stuck somehow and was now in flux. In my imagination the house became my body and the tree the body of my boyfriend and the two of us were engaging in intercourse. Then, to my wonderment, I became the tree and my boyfriend became the house. This process of interchangeable conjoinment went on with family members, friends, the culture at large and then nature. It was as if a part of me could imagine that I was a part of the whole cosmos, and it was a part of me. I felt an overwhelming sense of wholeness and at the same time felt a fear that I could meld into the whole and lose my individuality. The desire to know my true Self was stronger than ever.
“,”The hieros gamos and the process of coniunctio, seems to be at the forefront of my consciousness, waiting to crack the shell and break out of the enclosing egg. Learning to decipher which part of the inner alchemical work I am engaged in is a difficult task since the work is not linear. Different themes from each of the stages of the work weave themselves into a complex network of connections, reminding me of how alchemy is similar to tantra. “Tantra perceives the universe as a fabric interconnected to every part. Everything impacts everything else” (Patrick Mahaffey, lecture notes). The alchemical process, on the surface, changes base metals into gold, or into the philosopher’s stone; by fully engaging in the alchemical work on both the psychic and physical levels, the alchemist heals himself/herself, the world and the divine.
The dream I’m about to recount came to me about nine months ago. Even then, I knew immediately that the dream held important messages about how I see myself and my individuality, my selfness. I spoke to my therapist about it and was surprised that she didn’t spend more time with the dream symbols. Later, three or four days after the session, I realized I had waited until the last ten minutes of the session to bring up the dream. Perhaps, at the time I wasn’t ready to delve too deeply into the dream; my “fishing boat” (Raff Jung, 94), the ego, probably wasn’t strong enough yet to hold the tension that pervaded throughout the dream. Now I delight in the opportunity to reflect and amplify the dream images through the lens of alchemy and intend to continually engage on a deeper level with these particular symbols of my inner, psychic world.
I walk into a large concrete building, sort of industrial looking. The building seems to have only one room and it is filled with large aquariums.
Each aquarium has hundreds if not thousands of goldfish in them, swimming and shimmering in this bland environment. All of the goldfish look the same, are the same size and color. Except one. It is the same size but the color is an iridescent blue/green color, the most beautiful turquoise that I have ever seen. I watch the blue goldfish swim and then leave the building.
Later I return to the building to see the blue fish and find the aquariums empty, except for thousands of sparkling goldfish eggs. There are large, white plastic garbage bags all around the room full of the goldfish. In a panic I think of the one and only blue goldfish and search for it in all of the garbage bags. Finally, I look over and see the blue fish on the top of one of the garbage bags. As I run over, it jumps out of the bag and flops on the floor because it is still alive.
Instead of putting it back in the water, I put it back into the garbage bag and tie it up. I feel sad but resigned that this is how it has to be. At the same time I hear an inner voice screaming out, “what are you doing? It is still alive! Don’t throw it away!”
I quickly move past each of the aquariums filled with eggs and finally find one, tiny blue goldfish egg. I feel hope is somewhat restored.
The moment I awoke, I knew the dream was about my individuation process as well as my desire to deeply connect with my inner Self, the divine within. It was astounding to me when I realized that my inner self sent two dream images that represent the Self: the blue goldfish and its singular blue egg. Apparently, the self wanted to really get a message through to me!
As Jung pointed out, the power and energy of the self manifests as an almost irresistible urge to be oneself. The self pushes one to the experience and expression of one’s own uniqueness. (Raff Jung, 11)
The images that intrigued me the most in the dream were the blue goldfish and the blue egg; these two powerful images symbolize the self that seems to be reaching out to me, desiring unification. The blue goldfish is the lapis philosophorum, or philosopher’s stone, the individuated self. The symbol of the lapis “came not from the conscious mind of the individual man, but from those border regions of the psyche that open out into the mystery of cosmic matter” (Jung Alchemical, 127). Jungian psychology is an inner, psychological alchemy; the joining of the ego with the self, just as the king and queen come together in the alchemical coniunctio.
Other symbolic associations with alchemy that appeared in the dream, such as the color white, which represents the albedo stage of the alchemical process, will also be brought into focus; it is essential to give a reference point for the part of the inner alchemy that was being “moved out” in garbage bags for recycling, or dumping. The “throwing away” definitely signals a change in my inner process. However, I remain ambivalent about whether this is a positive or negative change and am more inclined to see the action in a negative light.
The multitude of goldfish swimming in different aquariums symbolize the unconscious material, such as complexes and archetypes, that live in my psyche. The fact that they have already been caught––they are not swimming freely in their natural environment, but in glass fish aquariums––perhaps has to do with unconscious material that has taken up a lot of space in my psyche, and maybe has even already been worked on through psychotherapy. Every aquarium is an organized microsphere of what unconscious contents I have worked through. The singular blue fish is a symbol of the self––the “true blue,” manifest self that exists in my psyche and wishes to make contact with me. The blue-colored fish suggests the lapis as well as its seed, its only egg. “The egg is a symbol of the whole cosmos and of the prima materia. It can refer to the vessel itself, as the container in which new life is being fostered” (Raff Jung, 195). The blue egg stands completely unique among the thousands of gold-colored goldfish eggs and waits for its time to be born. It is also differentiated from the other goldfish eggs by the fact it is nestled in one aquarium, in one corner by itself, while the golden eggs are gathered in multiple clusters. The unique quality of the true self is shown in the number symbolism of one.
The number one is often shown as a point because it takes two points joined together to create a line (Hopper 35). Another concept regarding the number one is the monad, which means “an absolutely simple entity, conceived as the ultimate unit of being” (World Book Dictionary 2002). According to the Pythagoreans, who influenced Gnostic as well as alchemical thought, the monad was the Father-Creator.
It is the basis and creator of number, but, although it is actually the great Even-Odd, its nature is considered to be more akin to masculine oddness than to feminine evenness. In short, it is always taken to represent all that is good and desirable and essential, indivisible and uncreated. (Hopper 39)
In Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung discusses the symbol of the monad and how it is thought of by the alchemists to be the prima materia:
The mystery of the smallest written sign, the point, is also known to alchemy. The point is the symbol of a mysterious creative centre in nature. (Jung Mysterium, 45)
When I saw the singular, small blue egg in the dream, a feeling of loneliness washed over me because I had tossed aside something so wonderful. But I also felt an optimistic sensation of the unexpected beauty that will someday break out of this tiny, individual egg. In an alchemical text by Paracelsus, the philosopher’s stone was referred to as “orphan” because of its uniqueness––“it was never seen elsewhere” (Jung Mysterium, 17).
Another alchemical concept that Jung discusses in Mysterium Coniunctionis is the scintilla, also known as “the ‘little soul spark’ of Meister Eckhart” (Jung Mysterium, 48). To be honest, I was in a complete state of awe when I was reading the section because it amplified the images from my dream in such an uncanny way. The golden, iridescent clusters of fish eggs in the dream were symbolic of the ‘oculi piscium’ (fishes eyes)” (Jung Mysterium, 51) waiting to become the Stone, in a chaotic state. The confusion surrounding my soul purpose and identity that I was undergoing at the time of the dream, is emphasized by the fact that there were a multitude of golden fish eggs and only one blue egg. Perhaps, the one blue egg is the part of my soul that I am working on now and the clusters of the golden fish eggs are alchemical works to be processed in the future. In the Aurora Consurgens, the scintillae are the hidden soul sparks or “invisible suns” (Dorn’s view) within each individual:
There are [. . .] fiery sparks of the World-Soul, that is of the light of nature, dispersed or scattered at God’s command in and through the fabric of the great world into all fruits of the elements everywhere. (Jung Mysterium, 55)
The blue fish egg in the corner of one of the fishtanks gives hope because like the “lapis angularis (cornerstone, a symbol for Christ)” (von Franz 148), it heralds the construction of the true self that is still in a latent state. The condition I was in at the time of the dream, was the containment, the birthplace of the work:
The philosophical egg is both birthplace of, and container for, the new attitudes symbolized by the alchemical goal of the coniunctio, the union of opposites. (von Franz 6)
The alchemical process is ongoing throughout life, and the alchemists believed that their purpose was to bring forth the light hidden within their individual souls, the soul of nature and the soul of the divine; in a Jungian perspective, the alchemists were working with the individuation of the deep soul, the unknown regions of the psyche.
The color symbolism in my dream may also be amplified by the different stages of the alchemical work; each stage is signaled by a color change in the materia. “For the alchemists, therefore, when a substance underwent a change in color, it was simultaneously undergoing a change in its inner nature” (Raff Jung xxiii). The colors that were most prominent and noticeable in the dream were gold, blue and white.
The gold-colored goldfish are symbolic of the sun, the scintilla, the spark of light hidden in all matter, the center, the divine. “gold has a circular form [. . .] the snake biting its own tail” (Jung Mysterium, 47). Jung asserts here the association of the sphere of gold with God, quoting from St. Bonaventure: “God is an intelligible sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference nowhere.”
The large, white plastic garbage bags full of goldfish signify a “cleansing” or a “cleaning up” (von Franz 221) stage of my inner alchemical process, the albedo, which Marie-Louise von Franz in her book Alchemy describes eloquently:
It is really a very long process and sometimes means endlessly rehearsing the same problem in its different aspects. That is why also in alchemical texts they allude to the fact that this part can go on for a long time and is characterized by endless repetitions–just as, unfortunately, we fall again and again into complexes which have not have been worked out…
(von Franz 222)
The color white of the albedo phase is produced by the many repetitions of the alchemist distilling, washing and cleansing the prima materia that has been in the nigredo state. My own feelings of frustration and exasperation in the dream were caused by the knowledge that perhaps I was repeating the same old patterns, i.e., not listening to my own voice and suppressing the expression of the Self.
The blue fish and blue fish egg, point to the philosopher’s stone, the Self:
Finally there will appear in the work that ardently desired blue or cerulean color, which does not darken or dull the eyes of the beholder by the healing power of its brilliance, as when we see the splendor of the sun. Rather does it sharpen and strengthen them (Bibl. chem., I, p.442 b./ Bibliotheca Chemica Curiosa… Geneva, 1702. 2 vols.). (Jung Mysterium, 14)
The color blue was interesting because at times it was the iridescent blue/green color described in the above quote and other times it appeared a deep, night blue, suggesting the nigredo state beginning to transform. The Stone, like the Self, is both the beginning and ending of the work.
Active imagination is dreamlike in that the waking consciousness is taking a back seat to the unconscious contents of the psyche, although the exercise is done while in a relaxed, waking state, not in unconscious slumber. The alchemical work is another way of engaging in active imagination that has an oneiric quality, as mentioned by von Franz: “The first time you hear a dream you could think it completely crazy, but if you read this material as you would a dream you will get to its meaning” (von Franz 84).
The degree of transformation in active imagination is much greater than just being in the dream state of sleep because the ego is fully conscious and at the same time able to assimilate the images without being defensive (Raff The Wedding, 9).
Through imagination, transformation occurs and the Self is born. Thus imagination is the central force in the process of individuation or the attainment of psychological wholeness. (Raff The Wedding, 9)
The space of the dream enclosed me within a large industrial building, and maybe this is symbolic of how I am holding something back or keeping something from coming in. I know that right now I am preparing to allow the numinous to penetrate my psyche in a new way, but nonetheless, I’m still in a state of preparation that may take many repetitions, many cleanings.
I am reminded of another dream I had before the blue fish dream in which I was again inside a large concrete building that had a thin body of water carved into its center. The water was black and inky, and swimming in the water was a dolphin. The dolphin spoke to me through its eyes, no words were exchanged. But when it started to swim away, I felt frantic. I had to continue being with this dolphin. I started to run after it and all of a sudden the concrete crumbled under my feet––I fell into the water and at first I panicked. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to see anything in the blackness, but was immediately mesmerized by diamond-like, glistening lights flickering under the water.
And so the work continues.
Hopper, Vincent Foster. Medieval Number Symbolism: Its Sources, Meaning, and
Influence on Thought and Expression. New York: Dover Publications, Inc,
Jung, C.G. Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 13, Alchemical Studies. The Visions of Zosimos (pp. 94-104). Paracelsus as a spiritual phenomenon (pp. 124-129). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1967.
– – -. Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Vol. 14, Mysterium Coniunctionis. Paradoxa
(pp. 42-56). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1970.
Raff, Jeffrey. Jung and the Alchemical Imagination. Beach, Maine: Nicolas-
Hayes, Inc., 2000.
– – -. The Wedding of Sophia. Beach, Maine: Nicolas-Hayes, Inc., 2003.
von Franz, Marie-Louise. Alchemy. Toronto, Canada: Inner City Books, 1980.
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