“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Alchemical Distillation

Alchemy is an ancient science, so primordial that its practice assumes a unification between art, technology, and religion. Prior to the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, these spheres were understood to be concerned with one and the same pursuit: the realization of the ends of spirit in earthly time. Distillation was never merely* a physiochemical process of purification, but a method for the instigation of psychospiritual transformation.

“Arthur John Hopkins [offers] a coherent picture of the alchemical procedures of the Egyptian alchemy in what he called ‘the standard method,’ a four step process aiming to impose, in a progressive way, on a chaotic matter of black colour, the so- called prima materia, the necessary water, air and fire to promote its evolution. A process which imitated the natural evolution process of the minerals they believed took place inside the mines, the “womb” of the Mother Earth…The abundant references to sulphur and sulphur-containing compounds in Graeco-Egyptian alchemy suggests that they were seen as particularly suitable for attracting pneuma: a concept adapted from Stoic philosophy, the vital spirit that pervades the entire universe and made possible the existence of life, associated indeed to fire and air. It is not surprising nor arbitrary the choice of sulphur-rich compounds as preferred pneumatic materials, we only need to recall the predominance of metal sulphides among the common metal ores, which were seen, according to extremely old metallurgical traditions, as mineral embryos, entities alive and maturing in the natural world” –Joaquín Pérez-Pariente summarizing A. J. Hopkins’ book Alchemy, child of Greek philosophy (1934).

The vital spirit spoken of above is the Logos of John’s Gospel. Without this active intelligence (which itself is neither mind nor matter), rocks could not have grown brains and earth could not have become fire. Earth evolution is an alchemical process: the metamorphosis of chaos into order, the entrance of the light into the dark. The Word speaks to the heart of the world, and out of its bones, tears, breath and eyes is born a God of flesh and blood, whose love is not of this world, but for it.

* Though, indeed, the whole point of the alchemical tradition is that matter is nothing less than the creative womb of spirit.








3 responses to “Alchemical Distillation”

  1. mary Avatar

    Hey, Matt
    and Joy to you in every holy day.

    I have been looking at Jung’s red book, which I received for Christmas and I was so very impressed with the art, the content, of course, but I found the forms to be absolutely fascinating;… where, where, have i seen these deep patterns before. The illustrations have as their background, (which Jung has filled all available space) intense folds, mazes and labyrinth-ine bands and bulbs and paisleys of growing organic shapes…earth, airs, fires, waters…the edges of which suggest the natural border of the nested next, and build in 2-D space a mosaic of dynamic, rigorous patterns:
    for example:

    In Liber Secundus, pp.53, 63, 109, 111, etc.

    are three …and more…examples that resonated with images that I recalled seeing in a book about chaos, images of chemical chaos, the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction:



    (and on YT)

    in which patterns are generated by “a cyclic cellular automaton” in far-from-equilibrium thermodynamic states.

    That the visual mirror of Jung’s journey should so fundamentally resemble the (Prigogine-Stengers) pre-organic and organic forms exhibited by the chemistry of life itself, seems more than metaphoric. That at the scale of “soul making”, the self-similar transformative principles re-emerge, underscores the naturalness of chemistry as alchemy. It is no great leap to find deep spiritual logic in the chemistry of life as the womb of Spirit, as you wrote. How beautiful.


    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      I agree, Mary. The patterns formed by Jung’s hands are not merely metaphorical representations of the intelligence of organic and proto-organic systems, but direct expressions of this same intelligence raised to the level (or perhaps intensified to the degree) of the human microcosm, or psyche. I’m in the process of writing my paper on Jung and Gebser, and your comment was just in the nick of time! I will try to work your insights into the text, as I think part of the task of integrating the symbiotic and synchronistic quality of magic consciousness is getting the ego to realize its unconscious dependence upon these same powers. Should be done writing in a few days!


  2. thomasmatus Avatar

    Yes, to what you say about the Logos in John.

    I sent you an email. I add it here as well.

    Matt, Merry Christmas!

    Sorry, I rely too much on prayer and telepathy to keep in touch. But I have been following your blogs and YT postings, always amazed at your insights, and a bit frustrated (with myself) for not being able to connect with the great books you are reading.

    I left a comment on one of your videos a few days ago – did you see it? Just to say thanks for your articulating a thought that I have had, but needed reinforcement. Yes, not to be afraid of making mistakes!

    It seems like you are on a fast track to the Ph.D. I’m cheering on the sidelines – good luck, maazel tov, and especially Christ-Love in your life and heart!


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