Four Steps to Transformation in Jungian Psychology and Gnostic Alchemy
I have been doing some research into the Mysterium for our upcoming Jungian Mystery School this year on the theme of the Unus Mundus. This combined with some prior research I have done on the “Four Stages of Transformation”1 has allowed me to map the corresponding stages of the Mysterium Coniunctionis2 onto the four stages of depth psychology that Jung describes in an earlier text and onto the four stages of the Magnum Opus, i.e., the four stages of transubstantiation in alchemy.
This adaptation draws on the respective primary texts by C. G. Jung.
In this post I’ll briefly detail these stages, how they respectively characterise and illuminate the four stages of transformation and how they map onto each other.
The Four Stages of Transformation in Psychoanalysis
“I would venture to regard the sum total of our findings under the aspect of four stages, namely confession, elucidation, education and transformation.” 3
Step 1: Confession/catharsis
This stage is about the process of becoming conscious of and entering into catharsis. Separating and extracting the constellated content from the psyche. Unburdening oneself breaks through personal defences and neurotic isolation and creates the possibility of change.
Step 2: Elucidation
This stage includes the process of illumination, amplification, association, creative imagination and symbolization of the problem. During this stage, a process of analysis is applied to the neurosis. Ties to unconscious processes are revealed and an awareness of this brings about a marked change in attitude, sacrificing supremacy of the conscious intellect.
Step 3: Education
This stage enrols the ego and persona in reference to the issue. Consciousness is used to interpret and understand the issue in the realms of both thinking and feeling, rational and irrational. Moving from a neurotic to healthy relationship with regards the constellated content.
Step 4: Transformation
This stage re-imagines your relationship with the problem. The re-symbolization and assimilation of the constellated content. Moving forward in relation to the issue.
The Four Stages of Transmutation in Alchemy
Jung also used the alchemical process to describe personal transformation, with extensive research and writings on Alchemy. As the alchemist’s attempts to transmute lead into gold, the human being goes through an analogous process of becoming conscious of unconscious content and eventually becoming individuated – a term Jung coined that describes a state of wholeness and being the most authentic expression of yourself.
“We find the crucial importance of self-knowledge for the alchemical process of transformation expressed most clearly in Dorn, who lived in the second half of the sixteenth century. The idea itself is much older and goes back to Morienus Romanus (7th-8th cent.), in the saying which he wrote on the rim of the Hermetic vessel: “All those who have all things with them have no need of outside aid.”4
The four stages of transformation/individuation from the Alchemical symbolism area clear analogue with Jung’s four stages of transformation
Nigredo: The blackening. This process involves the burning away the dross, seeking the “Prima Materia”, the original, pure, uncorrupted matter. This is symbolic of a rebirth, and fire is a critical element to achieve this. In psychotherapy this stage is represented by facing the Shadow. This stage refers to a blackening of mood, a depression, the ‘dark night of the soul’. The process of internal conflict and facing one’s undesirable qualities is intense and confrontational. This fire burns away the misconceptions, self-criticism and guilt. It is the death of the previous identity, creating the possibility of the birth of a new self.
Albedo: The whitening or emergence of the soul life. During this phase there is a withdrawal from the world and intense reflection on the direction and purpose of the individual’s life. The soul rises from the psyche and its essence is extracted. At the end of this stage, there is a heightened spiritual awareness and purpose.
Citrinitas: The yellowing or rising of the sun. The rising sun is a symbol of a mystical experience and contains aspects of revelation. It can be in many forms, but is experienced as a vision, a big dream or an intuition of our “truth”.
Rubedo: The Reddening. The spirit that was freed in the previous stage needs to be united with psyche again. The spirit that has been awakened now needs to be expressed appropriately and more authentically in the life and work of the individual. This is the stage of adjustment and re-alignment with authentic goals and purpose.
The Four stages of the Mysterium Coniunctionis
Mysterium Iniquitatis: union with the shadow.5
Mysterium Mentalis: union of the soul with spirit that is separated from the body. The idea is that the organism is composed of three entities: body, soul, and spirit and at the beginning they are all mixed up with one another. This stage of the coniunctio, the unio mentalis, brings about the union of soul and spirit over and against the body.
Mysterium Soma: the united spirit and soul, which were previously separated from the body, are now reunited with the body. They say, in effect, we love you after all, so you can come back and join us. That’s the unio mentalis united with the body.
Mysterium Coniunctionis: refers to yet another union: the united spirit-soul-body, achieved in the third stage, is now united with the world. That union brings about the Unus mundus.6
The correspondence between the above sets is clear:
Stage 1: The stage of confession/catharsis in the psychoanalytic process is symbolised in alchemy as the stage of Nigredo, which in the stages of the Mysterium can be characterised as the Mysterium Iniquitatis.
Stage 2: The stage of elucidation or illumination in psychoanalysis is symbolised in alchemy as the stage of Albedo and in the Mysterium as the Mysterium Mentalis
Stage 3: The stage of education or insight in psychoanalysis is symbolised in alchemy as the stage of Citrinitas, and in the Mysterium as the Mysterium Soma
Stage 4: The final stage in the process in psychoanalysis is the stage of transformation, symbolised in alchemy as the stage of Rubedo and this is the Mysterium Coniunctionis.
Applying this framework for transformation
In framing about these steps, the alchemical axiom attributed to the 3rd century alchemist Maria Prophetissa, sister of Moses, is applicable here,
“One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.”
This framework is the meta structure of both alchemy and Jungian psychology. The actual application of these stages in these two systems of thought, to be properly understood, requires an in-depth study of both. This structure has informed our signature psychoeducational programme Magnum Opus.7
It is, or at least I have found it to be, exceedingly difficult to provide a perfect example of this. I attempted to do this in my analysis of the HBO series True Detective, season 1.8 To describe a clinical vignette in these terms would exhaustive and, I think, probably contrived. Any meta formula such as this at best describes the aggregate of any group of samples, but never any specific individual case that is undoubtedly going to be nuanced in its unique indiosyncratic fashion.
The above said and acknowledged, what is being described here is an archetypal, i.e., universal, structure. In other words, to some degree, this structure is already woven into and implicit in the process of transformation. I trust, or at least hope, that seeing the structure in this fashion might be of some assistance to you in approaching and thinking about the question of transformation and of locating yourself in such a process. That it might provide a road map of sorts for psychological and spiritual transformation even if an admittedly high level one, a bird’s eye perspective.
The final stage of the process the Mysterium Coniunctionis is enigmatic and fascinating. Murray Stein, a leading light and icon in the field of Jungian Studies has dedicated much of his research and scholarship to its exposition.9 We will be exploring this theme of the Mysterium Coniunctionis, specifically the final stage as characterized by Gehard Dorn of the Unus mundus – the union with the world, in this year’s Jungian Mystery School.10 We will also be working with this theme in this year’s Art of Individuation programme.11
One last thought I want to leave you with about process of transformation being described here. Whilst it might sound rather grand and potentially out of reach, it is in fact a very real attainable, and human experience. It can be applied with equal meaning and value to a very modest and humble process of transformation as to a lifetime’s individuation. I have already spoken to the challenge in providing a digestible and meaningful example. That acknowledged, over the course of the last six months, I have had a personal experience of transformation leading to an “unus mundus-like” experience. This was in encountering scuba diving, the challenges this presented, thresholds I had to cross, the symbolisation of this process, and a transcendent experience of total immersion in the marine environment whilst diving. I am currently working two posts on this and hope to publish them in the next few weeks.
Until we speak again,
1 Farah, S. ‘True Detective and Jung’s Four stages of Transformation’, in ‘The Routledge International Handbook of Jungian film Studies’, (2018)
2 Jung, C. G. ‘Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry Into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy’, Collected Works vol. 14, Routledge, (1955)
3Collected Works of C, G. Jung, Vol. 16. 2nd ed., Princeton University Press, 1966, (pp. 53 -75), par. 122
4 Jung, C. G. (2014). Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Routledge., p. 166
5 Jung references this stage, ‘Mysterium Iniquitatis’ in correspondence with his translator RFC Hull, but declines to include in in the text of the Mysterium. “The idea of a fourth part of the Mysterium Coniunctionis is not at all a bad one, but I am afraid it has been already anticipated by the bulk of Freudian psychology. He was fascinated by the dark side of man, i.e., by all those things that make up the contents of the “Mysterium Iniquitatis,” the mystery of the shadow. Without his emphasis on the dark side of man and the chaos of his chthonic desires, I could not have found access to the “Mysterium Coniunctionis.” The “Mysterium Iniquitatis” is represented in modern literature by a whole library of Psychopathologia Sexualis, criminology, detective stories, etc. and on top the whole Freudian literature. It needs no further elucidation. The only trouble with this literary production is that nobody seems aware of a mysterium. My chance was that I saw it was a mysterium.” This is an extract from Jung’s letter to R F C Hull, (Jung Letters vol 2).
6 ARAS ‘Threefold conuinctio’ http://aras.org/concordance/content/threefold-coniunctio?back=concordance&search_api_views_fulltext=unus%20mundus
8 Farah, S. ‘True Detective and Jung’s Four stages of Transformation’, in ‘The Routledge International Handbook of Jungian film Studies’, (2018)
10 The Mystery School starts at the end of this month (July 2022) and features a stellar international faculty offering a series of lectures and workshops put together by the course consultant for this series Murray Stein https://appliedjung.com/jungian-mystery-school/
11 The Art of Individuation programme this year is on the theme of the Mysterium and starts at the beginning of October 2022, more information will be published on this soon, to see last year’s program go to https://appliedjung.com/the-art-of-individuation/