Alchemical Psychology, Part III – Silver

White and silver share a lot of the same qualities but Hillman breaks up the next chapter into two parts starting with silver; all things lunar and reflective. Silver allows reflection and is the means by which we mediate between psyche and the physical. The risk here is one of identifying with depersonalized images, becoming cold and detached from human life rather than using images as a bridge beween the psychic and physical worlds.

“The cool, silver psyche, though seemingly “unrelated,” can establish relations between the most burning issues and hold them together, yet without fusing them into a false compromise (amalgam). It mediates, attaching molten factions by means of its own detachment.”

042Hillman begins the chapter with a very startling idea that may be difficult for many moderns to hear. Particularly those who prefer to stave off pathological states by avoiding the black and blue stages whenever and however possible, but without which the alchemical journey has nothing to work with. For alchemy is often referred to as the Great Work and starts with the disintegration of the black and blue stages.

“Allow me to set forth as clearly and rationally as I can what I shall be about in this strange chapter. It starts from two large ideas. The first comes from Hegel who said that in insanity the soul strives to restore itself to perfect inner harmony. For Hegel, insanity is an essential stage in the development of the soul, and a stage upon which the soul purposefully performs.  Insanity belongs to soul-making. The second large idea comes from alchemy. In alchemical soul-making, gold is necessarily preceded by silver. This means that gold comes out of silver, red comes from white, sun from moon, brighter awareness from lunacy.”

Hillman frequently suggests that it is within our pathology we often find its cure – reminding us of an important understanding of the idea of homeopathy in which like cures like. Sometimes we must delve into our own craziness to find out what it is asking of us. For example, fighting off sadness will rarely make one happy but trying to be as sad as you possibly can might do the trick.

There is in this chapter a long discussion on the physical properties of the metals as understood by their elemental nature. The baser more corruptible metals were understood as moist and in need of heat and fire for transforming them. He reminds us that the root of the word metal, meaning search, “induces the activity of searching deeply into nature for the deus absconditus.”

Silver, the lunar mind is the means of reflection in which we see through images and allows the material to be hammered into specific shapes to become useful. Silver also has the quality of mirroring.

“If silver mirrors because it is both receptive (moist) and solid, then solid receptivity is the kind of consciousness that serves to mirror. Notice how necessary it is for mirroring to have incorporated or digested one’s own moisture and to be limited by one’s own boundary. One cannot mirror if one too easily flows; and one cannot mirror everything, but only what one can receive and to which one is solidly present within the limits of one’s own borders. Mirroring is not blank receptivity; it requires focusing.”

Next comes the warning that silver may cost us carrying with it the potential for debasement into lead which can then weigh us down.

“Though we may extract a silver moment from our leaden body, these extractions leave behind an even heavier and denser condition. Depression is the price of silver. Melancholy has, ever since Aristotle’s Problemata, been the disease of thinkers. The more white reflection the more burdened lead; as we produce silver, we increase the lead. This is surely familiar: an insight may be shining in itself, but it makes no dent on the gray mood from which it came.”

Silver remains vulnerable to other elements such as air.

“Silver requires polishing, attention, a bit of rubbing and fussing; it calls for worry. Since exposure makes it lose its shine, it is best hidden, protected. It is covered with blackness, by silence and dullness, and by hiding itself invisibly in lead.”

It’s a long chapter, too much to bring in here. Through the careful mining of silver we begin to notice the subtle body, and become comfortable giving metaphor equal footing in our sensing and knowing of the world.

“Metaphors are psychological language – and all alchemy is metaphorical, the luna metaphorica that Benedictus Figulus spoke of – making subtle everything we ever may have assumed to be only empirical fact, whether events in the world, our own flesh, even the elemental minerals in the earth. Alchemy transmutes the world to the dream, which it does in the laboratory of its language. ”

It’s easy to miss that it is through psyche, the soul, that we experience the world. We moderns prefer the language of brain chemistry, genetics, computer models – forgetting that those metaphors come straight out of psyche as does all of our reflections. Taking care of the silvering for reflection helps us create a bridge between what we sense and understand of the physical world remembering that all we experience comes to us primarily in images.

“Silver is hidden because it is buried all through the alchemical work itself, within every word, as the metaphorical resonance that transfers everything said and done to a psychic level. Silver is necessary from the beginning, else we cannot rightly hear the instructions. “Throw away the books,” say the alchemists, meaning “discard the literal,” so as to hear the spirit in the letter.”

Hillman, James (2011-10-10). Alchemical Psychology (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman) (Kindle Location 3128). Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Thank you to Yes for the song, I’ve Seen All Good People.

“Don’t surround yourself with yourself
Move on back two squares
Send an instant karma to me
Initial it with loving care”

Links to all posts in the series:

Colour My World , Alchemical Psychology, Part I – Black

Alchemical Psychology, Part II – Blue

Alchemical Psychology, Part III – Silver

Alchemical Psychology, Part IV – White

Alchemical Psychology, Part V – Yellow

Alchemical Psychology, Part VI – Red

Alchemical Psychology, Part VII – Air

Alchemical Psychology, Part VIII – Caelum