Fermentation - Mortification - Putrefaction

Transformation Tarot

Putrefactio and mortificatio usually refer to two different aspects of the same stage in the alchemical process and are both connected to death. Fermentation is often confused here too, so let's discuss all three. Putrefactio and mortificatio are not considered alchemical processes but rather the inevitable result of various operations on substances which are deemed necessary for transformation to occur. Mortificatio is represented as a form of torture or mutilation, as in the Passion of Christ and the death and mutilation of Osiris and is a feeling we all have experienced more than once in our lives.

Decapitation, another form of separation, is a mortificatio which signals that the ego must be separated from the archetypal psyche in order to transcend. We must separate the ego from the collective unconscious, from the energies that initially gave it form, and learn to discriminate within non-duality, without projecting or choosing one side over another.

Edward F. Edinger describes mortificatio of the king or sun at the archetypal level as “the death and transformation of a collective dominant or ruling principle.” Here is where we must slay our dragons and look for what can redeem us. The image of God, soul, self needs to be connected back to the ego consciousness before we can reach any wholeness.

Fermentation always implies a transformation that occurs with the introduction of another substance, such as the organic materials inherent in putrefaction. Every time we endure any of these three psychological states, we are in a nigredo, usually enduring loss of psychic energy, the complete deflation of the ego, feeling souless, in a state of spiritual death.

Key XIII, Death, from the Builders of the Adytum deck shows a beautiful combination of the three mental states -mortification, putrefaction and fermentation- while reminding us that these dark stages of the soul provide the seeds for rebirth and transformational growth.


I Ching Hexagrams 23 (Po/ Splitting Apart/ Stripping the Corpse) and 24 (Fu/ The Turning Point/ Return of the Spirit) below reflect the process of death and rebirth through the movement from decay, fermentation and rebirth.

Gexagram 23
Gexagram 24

Pamela Colman Smith's version of Judgement, Key XX, shows the archaengel Gabriel blowing his trumpet and bringing those souls ready for rebirth to higher levels of vibratory awareness after going through the processes of death, putrefaction and fermentation. Again, we are dealing with Separatio: separation of the subtle from the gross as well as Sublimatio and the ability to exert the right form of discrimination.

Transformation Tarot