There are many stages involved in spiritual alchemy. Alchemical texts are not that easy to decipher
and many of the pictures are meant to be obscure, intentionally ambiguous, and even nonsensical.
The incongruence works wonders in modern psychology, since it offers our imagination a wide range
of possible interpretations. Just like with Tarot, we react to the pictures in very personal ways.
As we discuss some of the alchemical processes, please keep in mind that each one of us will
experience a psychological stage or an alchemical process differently. The marriage of opposites, the
idea of bringing together and into amalgamation forms that are supposed to be opposite in nature, like
the Yin and Yang, the King and Queen, the Sun and the Moon. Out of this union a new form comes
forth. This is one of the main themes, but as you will notice in many texts, this marriage (hierosgamos)
is part of a rather complex set of circumstances or stages in which usually the theme of death and
rebirth takes center stage. .
When we are in a state that alchemists would call nigredo or fermentation or putrefaction, how do we
really feel and react to the world around us? What about the opposite stage, the albedo or dawn that
brings in release and light? The image above shows us the lion, the golden lion, wearing the crown of
the King, with the Sun and the Moon covering its eyes. How would you interpret that picture, for
There are many psychological stages that can be subjected to alchemical processes of
transformation. But these stages are triggered by different events in anyone's life and often depend
on our age, our personal circumstances, including our socio-cultural background. The variables are
as wide and contradictory as our lives are, as well as the way we each tackle our life's challenges. My
intention here is to give the reader a wide and very brief outline of some alchemical processes that we
might encounter in life. There are no set rules; and no description applies to one process exclusively.
Keep in mind the old axiom: Solve et Coagula: Dissolve and Coagulate. Alchemy is about dissolving,
fermenting, burning, distilling, cleansing, and reconstituting. In fact, the main idea is to bring down the
old structures or structural content in order to create or bring up a new one.
The substances and processes used in the lab serve to subject the prima materia -which is whatever
is being worked on- to all kinds of procedures and transformative experiences that alter the old
structure and transmute it into a new one. Alchemy is all about transformation or transmutation. The
goal is to bring forth gold from base metal, from matter that has grown so dense and so dark and so
heavy that needs to be transfigured into something light and new and redeeming.
When we experience a situation that completely destroys us, that completely annihilates our sense of
security, like the Nine of Swords or the Ten of Swords in the Waite-Smith deck; when we lose someone
close to us, or go through a terrible displacement (maybe the Five of Cups), we enter a Nigredo state
that must be overcome and transcended, in order to arrive at the dawn of albedo, the light of the new
day shining upon us. The processes that nigredo subjects us to could be horrible, like a complete
meltdown (Key XVI The Tower) or Key 13 Death; or brooding under a tree (like the 4 of Cups) or
feeling like being stabbed in the heart, like the Three of Swords.
We all have experienced alchemical stages throughout our lives. The question is, what did we learn, if
anything? What personal archetype does an alchemical stage represent to you and why? If any of the
Tarot images strikes a chord, ask yourself why. And remember that we can learn more from the
shadows that disturb us than from any artificial light that blinds us.
alchemy pictures from the Manly P. Hall collection, PRS
La Forza from the Etteilla deck
Le Diable from the Oswald Wirth deck
ALCHEMY AND TAROT