The Alchemists Dream

 

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Alchemist by- David Teniers the Younger, ca. 1650

BANG! The sound of a huge door slamming and shaking the whole house woke me out of a deep sleep. “Oh s#@% it’s an earthquake.” I said half to myself and half to my wife who lay next to me. As I leaped to my feet getting ready to dive for whatever safety I could find I looked back toward the bed only to find that it was no longer there. “What the hell?” I muttered. “Fran?” I yelled out as though ready to accuse her of having somehow taken our bed while I slept. It was then that I stopped dead and stared-out across the empty room and realized that she too wasn’t there.

“Fran?” I piteously whispered and became conscious of a different kind of fear starting to crawl up my spine and causing my mind to swim. “Where the hell am I?” I pleaded. “Ah, it’s dream.” I thought. Though it felt more real than usual, I convinced myself that it was actually just a dream. “Whew, yes that’s what it is. Time to wake up…” But my usual technique for pulling me out of a dream wasn’t working.

Slowly I made my way for the bedroom door hoping that it was actually there in the dream…one never knew about these things until it was all over. Stubbing my toe in the dark I felt the cursed pain burn through my foot. “This bloody dream is too real!” I thought. But there was the door so I cautiously reached for the knob and carefully pulled the door open just enough so that I could peer down the hall.

Instead of the narrow hall that lead from our bedroom to the front rooms of our house I was now staring at a landing with a wooden railing at its far edge. Two steps more and I found myself staring down into a cavernous expanse of books, and shelves, carved columns, and giant reading tables with the amber glow of lamps pouring light across their tops. As I tried to take the scene in I saw that I was standing on a second tier of several aisles of bookshelves radiating outward toward some unseen perimeter. A railed wooden catwalk circumnavigated the gigantic room that was topped by a high vaulted ceiling and accessed all the aisles. The ceiling upon closer inspection looked very much like the inside of a gigantic wine cask.

“I’ve seen this room before. But where?” I muttered to myself. As I pondered this question I made my way toward the left hand side of the library and found myself drawn toward a particular aisle. No longer in fear but experiencing extreme curiosity I walked slowly toward the far end of the catwalk peering down each aisle as I went. Oddly enough at about what I imagined to be the center of each aisle darkness fell and made it impossible to see its end.

A few steps more I found myself standing before the aisle that had seemingly drawn me to it and without a moment’s hesitation for cautions sake I walked forward. It was as though I were pushing through a heavy veil, unseen and not really felt but experienced. Once through I made my way down the aisle and turning to my right stopped before a row of large heavily clad books that crowded most of the shelf at eye level. Reaching for the largest and most ornate my hand seemed to be stopped at mid reach and then it moved slowly to the left as though it had a mind of its own and as if it were scanning the books for just the right one when it came to rest just inches from the plainest book on the shelf. “This must be the one.” I muttered sarcastically. Having regained control over my hand again I reached forward for the smallest book in the row. It was a cloth-bound book and wasn’t much more than 6×8 or much thicker than a short story. “I wonder what’s all this mystery about?” I said to myself and feeling somewhat disappointed that the book hadn’t been one of the large leather bound volumes that surely held the answers to some age-old questions of the universe. “Ah well, it’s a dream after all so lets see where this takes me.” Holding the book at an angle so that the overhead light could help me see it better I rubbed my hand across its surface. It felt warm and inviting so I accepted its invitation and opened it.

The world seemed to swirl as though I’d entered some kind of vortex. I held fastly to the book, as it seemed the only solid object around. Soon enough the spinning stopped which was a good thing because I was just beginning to feel my stomach coming into my mouth. “God how I hate nausea!” I spat as I tried to get my bearings.

I looked around me and saw a much smaller room than the one I left and it was dark save a candelabra of burning candles standing on a large table filled with copper condenser coils, beakers, retorts and other laboratory paraphernalia. In the middle of it all sat a man middle-aged in appearance and hunched over a book not unlike that which I still held tightly to. With what seemed to be a turkey quill he was busily jotting something into the book. With every stroke of his pen I could feel the book I was holding move in my hand.

“I’ll be with you in a moment young man. Sit, sit anywhere you like.” He said while waving his quill about randomly toward a clump of wooden boxes. Being that the only chair in the room was currently occupied I found an uncluttered box and gingerly sat down. After a few moments he stopped writing, laid down his quill and looked toward my direction and peered intently trying to pierce the gloom that filled the room just beyond the reach of the candlelight.

“Welcome!” He said heartily and with the biggest of smiles. His manner in that one word seemed to calm my nerves.

“You’re a dream aren’t you?” were the first words out of my mouth. It seemed almost rude not to acknowledge his presence or to thank him for sharing his space but even though the room was no longer physically spinning my mind had yet to stop swirling and I needed to add some gravity to it.

“How do you know I’m not dreaming you instead of you I?” He said sort of nonchalantly.

“Well I really don’t I guess.”

“Or more curiously, how do you know that you aren’t dreaming me dreaming you?”

“I guess I don’t.” I said while scratching my head and feeling even less grounded before starting this conversation.

“Of course you don’t and probably never will which is actually a pretty good thing or you’d cease.” He said matter-of-factly.

“Cease?” That didn’t sound so good and my guard went up as I looked furtively from side to side for any unseen threat.

“We haven’t got time for that right now.” He said as he scooted his chair away from the table and turned it to face me. Reaching toward the candelabra he made a twisting gesture with his hand and the room seemed to fill with light. “Ah that’s better. We can see each other now.” He said triumphantly.

“So you’re the fifth this month.”

“The fifth?”

“Yes. I had one visitor…let me see…” he paused to sort out his thoughts. “I had one who said he was from the distant past, another from the near past, one from my future and…when did you say you’re from?”

“The 21st century.” I said proudly.

“Ah yes and one from your future.”

“My future?” I asked dumbfounded.

“Yes of course. Do you think time only flows in one direction? You obviously have much to learn.”

“Well given that this is just a dream I guess time can do whatever or whenever it wants.” I said chuckling to myself.

“You still haven’t got it. This is no more or less a dream than what you’ve been living. This is just as real as what you’ve been calling reality.”

And then I woke up.

 

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Alchemy and Individuation in dreams

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Some time ago I interpreted a personal dream that included a number of symbols representing a balancing of opposites. Nestled within the dream was a reference to 20K gold as a transforming element within my psyche. This reminded me of a goal (there being many more than one) of transforming base materials, such as lead, into a more precious and higher level metal in the form of gold. Carl Jung loved the symbolism of alchemy, the mystical precursor to chemistry, and likened it to an unconscious attempt to reconcile, or bring into balance, conflicting opposites, in our personality and especially within the psyche. He likened this process in humans as a conscious and unconscious attempt to create wholeness, or self-actualization. He called this process Individuation.

In the dream the base, or common, metal transformation into a higher level, or rarefied, metal such as Gold has yet another level of transformation i.e. the transformation of gold (the accumulated money) into the symbol of the self (a building) thus gold can also symbolize a base-metal-transformation into and even higher form e.g. the integrated human, in this case, me.

Note that the ultimate stated goal for the alchemist was to create the Philosopher’s Stone, that which makes eternal life. In alchemy, sequential chemical transformations lead to an ultimate goal of human existence—to live eternal. Gold was never really the ultimate goal, just another step along the individuation process. In short, alchemy was also the study of the unconscious and thus its methodology, symbolism and mythology of mankind’s psychic conflicts and seemingly unbalanced dichotomies such as masculine/feminine traits is a metaphor for the therapeutic process and the use of dream analysis as a tool in this process. Thus the purpose of dream analysis is to serve as a tool toward the individual access of the collective and personal unconscious for personal growth toward self-actualization.

According to Jung, the integration of humans was a means of reconciling conflicting sides of themselves primarily for religious, or spiritual function. This function has nothing to do with creeds and dogmas, but an expression of what the collective unconscious does to inspire us toward spirituality and love.

In this way this dream seems to serve as a summary of what I’ve learned so far and acts as a bookend to the last several dreams that have dealt with both the waking dream and sleeping dream material that have revealed some understanding of the self and how it interacts with world.

Another message in the dream is that as I learn to balance (integrate) my conflicting perspectives of myself, I come closer to my true self. I have shadow sides of my nature and sunny sides, negative and positive self-judgments, and masculine and feminine natures. Ignoring, or actively denying any of these conflicting aspects causes the balance scale to tip excessively in one direction and the composite that is me becomes less than whole and less able to live my life in a useful i.e. meaningful way. Tipping toward the extremes causes one to diverge from the path of self-actualization and among other things, creates zealotry—an inflexible response to life.