Alchemy Through Tarot Images

There are many stages involved in spiritual alchemy.  Alchemical texts are not that easy to decipher and many of the pictures are meant to be obscure, intentionally ambiguous, and even nonsensical. The incongruence works wonders in modern psychology, since it offers our imagination a wide range of possible interpretations.  Just like with Tarot, we react to the pictures in very personal ways.

As we discuss some of the alchemical processes, please keep in mind that each one of us will experience a psychological stage or an alchemical process differently.  The marriage of opposites, the idea of bringing together and into amalgamation forms that are supposed to be opposite in nature, like the Yin and Yang, the King and Queen, the Sun and the Moon.  Out of this union a new form comes forth.  This is one of the main themes, but as you will notice in many texts, this marriage (hierosgamos) is part of a rather complex set of circumstances or stages in which usually the theme of death and rebirth takes center stage.

Transformation Tarot

When we are in a state that alchemists would call nigredo or fermentation or putrefaction, how do we really feel and react to the world around us? What about the opposite stage, the albedo or dawn that brings in release and light?  The image above shows us the lion, the golden lion, wearing the crown of the King, with the Sun and the Moon covering its eyes.  How would you interpret that picture, for example?

There are many psychological stages that can be subjected to alchemical processes of transformation.  But these stages are triggered by different events in anyone's life and often depend on our age, our personal circumstances, including our socio-cultural background. The variables are as wide and contradictory as our lives are, as well as the way we each tackle our life's challenges.  My intention here is to give the reader a wide and very brief outline of some alchemical processes that we might encounter in life.  There are no set rules; and no description applies to one process exclusively.

Keep in mind the old axiom: Solve et Coagula: Dissolve and Coagulate.  Alchemy is about dissolving, fermenting, burning, distilling, cleansing, and reconstituting.  In fact, the main idea is to bring down the old structures  or structural content in order to create or bring up a new one.

The substances and processes used in the lab serve to subject the prima materia -which is whatever is being worked on- to all kinds of procedures and transformative experiences that alter the old structure and transmute it into a new one.  Alchemy is all about transformation or transmutation. The goal is to bring forth gold from base metal, from matter that has grown so dense and so dark and so heavy that needs to be transfigured into something light and new and redeeming.

When we experience a situation that completely destroys us, that completely annihilates our sense of security, like the Nine of Swords or the Ten of Swords in the Waite-Smith deck; when we lose someone close to us, or go through a terrible displacement (maybe the Five of Cups), we enter a Nigredo state that must be overcome and transcended, in order to arrive at the dawn of albedo, the light of the new day shining upon us. The processes that nigredo subjects us to could be horrible, like a complete meltdown (Key XVI The Tower) or Key 13 Death; or brooding under a tree (like the 4 of Cups) or feeling like being stabbed in the heart, like the Three of Swords.

We all have experienced alchemical stages throughout our lives. The question is, what did we learn, if anything? What personal archetype does an alchemical stage represent to you and why? If any of the Tarot images strikes a chord, ask yourself why. And remember that we can learn more from the shadows that disturb us than from any artificial light that blinds us.

Transformation Tarot
Transformation Tarot
Transformation Tarot
Transformation Tarot

The Mystery of the Coniunctio  |  Understanding Stages in Alchemy Using Tarot

Alchemy pictures from the Manly P. Hall collection, PRS
La Forza from the Etteilla deck
Le Diable from the Oswald Wirth deck