In the opening of session three of the Jung Platform’s course on James Hillman’s book, Alchemical Psychology, Pat Berry and Robert Bosnak offered some thoughts on the class as they envision it. Robert spoke for the need of slowness in entering into the material. Pat said that not seeing the audience was difficult for her and as a participant in my first online class, I too, feel this absence. How much will the lack of visual and tactile otherness affect the creation of an alchemical vessel out of the group remains to be seen.
Reading from chapter two, Rudiments, Robert reminds us that alchemy is a work of the hands – that which touches, including the work of handling words as poesis, or actions. Alchemy is a doing but also, as Pat added, a making – which inspired me to consider the ways that alchemical work involves both touching and being touched, doing and making.
In working with the substances of soul, we give weight to what is carried within, as well as to what and who touches us in our daily lives. Perhaps this is what makes up the “prima materia.” Attending to touch, both the material stuff of our daily grind and to the matters of heart and soul, creates a place in our lives where thoughts, ideas, dreams and feelings matter and have weight. Putting into words what touches us, through practice, we come to see how word choices, especially how we put our experience and feelings into words, creates our reality, becoming a poesis.
The talk moved on to Hillman’s idea that desire by itself is not enough, but that tending to desire by staying in the longing becomes a way to keep the fire, the passion going and in so doing, teaches us the art of tending the fire so necessary for the work of making something out of our desires. To Hillman desire was something to work with, to make Holy, through attention and discipline, rather than to be rid of. Desire though needs refinement away from innocence and ignorance of its potential to harm in order to serve the work. Hillman speaks of tending the fire as an art itself:
“For desire to be consummated, for the opus to come to fruition – in art, in love, in practice of any sort – learn all you can about its fire: its radiance, its flickering instability, its warmth, and its rage.
The art of the fire and the key to alchemy means learning how to warm, excite, enthuse, ignite, inspire the material at hand, which is also the state of one’s nature so as to activate it further into a different state.”
The “material at hand” again, is us and what we bring into the work, what we are currently carrying. This can mean both physical and psychic burdens, anything that matters to us. My take on alchemical psychology is that in setting out to do this work, we either embark on it because of some need – a wound that will not heal, an anxiety or perhaps sleeplessness, an inability to relate to others, or even unknowingly falling into the work intrigued by interest, without the awareness that our better angel knows we need to do this work. We are duped and before we know it, have fallen into an unexpected place of darkness and confusion, and the work no longer just a curiosity, begins in earnest.
In a gathering such as this online class, each of us must find his own way, tending our own fire and immersing ourselves in the work, if we wish to understand what alchemical psychology offers us. Can the gathering of the group guide an alchemical process? I would like to think that it can, but am not sure yet what we, as a group, are doing. But, that does not mean nothing is happening. Hillman speaks of the first stage of the work as that of a slow, brooding, in which the heat, the passions are yet to be felt or perceived. As the work proceeds, the heat increases from this slowness.
” ‘The first grade is very slow, and it is like an inactive lukewarmness; it is called the heat of a tepid bath, of excrement, of digestion, of circulation … likened to the warmth generated by a fowl when hatching its young.’ Evidently this fire is generated by brooding, digesting and holding within the lower body, its fermenting bowels and silent womb. Attitudes are lukewarm, diffident. Slowness and the restraint of activity all by themselves are able to develop heat.”
Brooding relates to that which supplies heat for creation:
brood (n.) Old English brod “brood, fetus, hatchling,” from Proto-Germanic *brod (cf. Middle Dutch broet, Old High German bruot, German Brut “brood”), literally “that which is hatched by heat,” from *bro- “to warm, heat,” from PIE *bhre- “burn, heat, incubate,” from root *bhreue- “to boil, bubble, effervesce, burn” (see brew (v.)).
But also can relate to weather that is stirring or a mood in which we are fixed in:
Quotes taken from Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.