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Three alchemical phases



Nigredo, albedo and rubedo represented as three birds inside the alchemical vessel.
(from Splendor Solis, London, 1500s)

The basic three phases of alchemy is the nigredo (darkening), the albedo (whitening) and the rubedo (reddening), corresponding to a dark nigh, purification, and a mature (differentiated) union of opposites. And it seems that these three happen as cycles within cycles, as a fractal pattern. There are smaller cycles within larger cycles, spanning from (one or more) lifetimes, years, months, weeks, hours, minutes and even seconds.

The nigredo comes any time our habitual ways of operating in the world does not work anymore. When we meet a wall, when we cannot find fulfillment, when there is loss, when the world does not show up the way our personality wants it to show up. It is a disenchantment, sadness, grief, depression, dryness, sense of lack, of something missing.

The albedo comes out of (and works within) the nigredo, it is the purification, the shedding and burning through of old patterns, of clarification, resolution.

And even for one particular pattern or issue, these two, the nigredo and albedo works within each other, and there is often a cyclic shift from one to the other, many turns of the spiral, dipping down into (more of) the material of the nigredo and purifying it in the albedo.

Eventually, the rubedo emerges, a new maturity that has come out of the persistent work of the nigredo/albedo cycles, a maturity that embraces opposites, that owns both what was previously identified and disidentified with.

Example

Say there is a pattern of irritability with people who make a lot of noise. Here, there is an identification as someone who is quiet (and interpreted as respectful), and a disidentification as someone who is noisy (and interpreted as disrespectful.) The inevitable stress that comes up from being around people who are noisy is the nigredo. It is the misery of having the world show up in ways the personality does not approve of.

If there is a prober alchemical vessel for the process, and the right amount of heat is applied (intensity), then the albedo takes places, the whitening, purification. It seems that an essential aspect of the vessel is a willingness to (a) admit that there is a problem here, (b) stay with the process until some form of resolution. And the heat works best if it is not too cold (maybe avoiding situations altogether that brings it up) and not too hot either (being completely overwhelmed by it.)

Beyond this, the vessel can take many forms, depending on how we work with the issue.

One vessel is to be with experiences, as they are. Allowing everything, including resistance to being with experience. This in itself may well allow the process to unfold into rubedo.

Another is various forms of self-inquiry (see next post for an example), working with dreams, or any number of other specific approaches.

The rubedo is the fruition of the process, the release, the maturing beyond the issue. In this case, a release from the sense of I and Other around noise.

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