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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD candidate, DPhil., MA (Psychology), MA (History)

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Therapy as an Alchemical Process: Albedo

Paul Kiritsis - Saturday, December 01, 2012

The albedo, an alchemical phase associated with the complete withdrawal of psychological projection.

During the alchemical rotation, the putrefying black matter in the alembic wrought by the nigredo phase undergoes an intrinsic change expressed visibly as a pattern of white flecks and eventually becomes white. In describing this pivotal transformation, the seventeenth century alchemist Eirenaeus Philalethes pronounced that “when by continuance of decoction the colour changeth to white, they call it their Swan, their Dove, their white stone of Paradise, their white Gold, their Alabaster, their Smoak, and in a word whatever is white they do call it by.” From his words we garner the sense that the shade associated with this polar shift is white. The condition of albification or becoming white evokes an agglomeration of vital qualities interwoven into a single multi-coloured tapestry by esoteric systems of correspondence that have attempted to descry the noumena: purity, wisdom, electromagnetism, love or Eros, heat, and the powerful vital life force underrunning all organic material.

The first two are particularly interesting because they yoke the beautiful shade to physical and mental limpidness, a state where the physical body has been extricated of its many impurities and has become imbued with newfound virginity and virtuousness. When such a condition predominates the transcendental spirit can easily imprint new psychic patterns or imprints upon the soul. Alchemically, the rendering of darkness and primordial chaos into an orderly paradisal state of inert wholesomeness is personified by natural landscapes involving silver trees and silver apples, tying it to the lunar orb and the sphere of the Divine Feminine. The esoteric connection between these concepts becomes clear when we look at the continuum of images used by alchemical manuscripts from about the time of Zosimos of Panopolis (c. 300ce) onwards to illustrate whitening or albification–white queens, white foliated earth, white ashes, the lunar sphere, the dove, the virgin goddess Artemis, the dove, the white rose and lily, milk, the swan, and the metal silver. In teasing out the qualitative connections between the pre-eminent leitmotifs, we see that parading beneath the banner of a phase often called albedo or leucosis is the notion of a return to the womb from whence everything emerged and to which everything will return in time; to the Adamic state of uroboric wholeness before the fall. Within a paradise now re-membered the alchemist witnesses a miraculous transformation in the vessel being heated; the decaying mass mysteriously coagulates into a ‘white stone’ or ‘elixir’ able to transmute lead or mercury into silver and to heal all illnesses indefinitely.  

Psychology tends to view the albedo as the dawning of a new consciousness, albeit one that exists as an idyllic, abstract state disengaged from human experience and relationships. What this means is that psychological disturbances, neuroses, or complexes that were previously nagging the individual have now ceased to exist. The client is no longer at the mercy of symptomology coming from the dreambody mechanism. It is the end result of a long line of scrupulous cross-examinations of inner psychic contents spurred by a more comprehensive standpoint, customarily an arbitrating counsellor or a public figure of some kind. During this time the one engaged in inner work has trudged up along the slope of a mountain to the peak where the temperature and wind conditions are markedly different from those at ground level. The peak is an abode of perfect stillness and quiet; a bit like being in the eye of a storm or in tropical doldrums. For the most part the height puts distance between oneself and the moisture and corrosive waters of emotional turmoil below. Further still it nurtures an optimistic feeling of stability and indestructibly; from up here cosmic phenomena produced by spiritual winds like psychological twisters, oceanic greybeards, and thunderstorms are less threatening and harrowing and can be observed, measured, and philosophized with a certain detachment.

However, those who dare to peer down from the towering peak prematurely risk suffering vertigo, a bout of strange dizziness that comes from the realization of having progressed so far into an exotic void. Developmental leaps of this kind are often bittersweet in nature simply because they invite into one’s newfound virginal psychic state the deepest sense of surrealism. Am I really free of my symptoms? Of my problem?  Is the pain that has just disappeared going to return? Have I really been liberated from the chains which bind me to the ground, or am I trapped inside a metaphysical dream woven together by the counsellor that is bound to end the moment we stop seeing one another? Have I really surmounted this challenge, or is this peaceful peak on which I find myself really a rumbling volcano about to send a mushroom cloud of a different kind over my head?

As we all know life processes are mutable, gyratory, and interpenetrative in nature. Hence it’s not realistic to assume that psychospiritual ascent to any peak of Self is going to be a linear or straightforward affair. Those who manage to behold albedo do so after a meandering journey riddled by many ascents and descents, comings and goings, and attempted ascensions that become way too steep and lead to dead-ends. Why is this so? Well, the bundles of projections that comprise complexes, neurotic attitudes, and infantile beliefs are addictive conditions and any complete dematerialization through the avenue of behavioural therapy is bound to bring with it a gut-level feeling of loss and separation anxiety. How else will we bide our time on this earth if we’re not chain-smoking or doing drugs, pining after lost lovers, falling into prosaic work patterns for the sake of acquiring material properties like jewels and clothes that temporarily feed an illusory sense of self-worth, binging on porn to satisfy the obdurate carnal need for titillation, or rerunning decisive moments in our minds where we should have done this or that? Letting go of past habits, however destructive, can sometimes be more frightening than continuing to hold onto and being ravaged by them. It’s this fear of the unknown that sometimes lingers about like a bad smell before channelling its energy into a little mechanical voice within that keeps whispering, “Better the devil you know…”

The vicious, repetitive cycles of socio-political, cultural, and religious trends underlying the entire history of human civilization definitely reflects the dynamics and functions of the inner. The hereditary psychic hardware found there seems to be programmed in a distinctive manner so that actions and activities wrought by proliferating though-desires and attitudes never cease to circulate. The mystery which we tend to define as the ego-self straddles the ebbing and flowing of sense and nonsense; of light and dark; of Logos-cutting and Eros-gluing; and of matter and imagination in its bid to strengthen its willpower so that ensuing changes and actions made on its part are responsible, calculated, and guaranteed to garner favourable psychospiritual outcomes. Let’s call this ebbing and flowing of the life process an experiment to acquire freedom. Unhappily, most of what seems to ‘flow’ in the developed Western countries nowadays is self-defeating and detrimental to spiritual evolution. As the backbone of culture, technology and science seem to have advanced consensual knowledge of the universe and improved life without as much as a backward glance to see if the collective virtue of sound moral standards is in tow.

Thus reaching the alchemical albedo on a personal level is no reassurance of salvation; nasty symptoms purged from a present, self-conscious personality now receptive to the total sum of projections coming from transpersonal energies latent in the collective unconscious may just be replaced by an analogous set equally undesirable and damaging. Situations of this variety seem to explode into reality when clients don’t act quickly and consciously to implement decisive changes made in therapy and actualize their new philosophy through more concrete and constructive methods. One of the best ways a counsellor can ensure that the client’s will to action isn’t arrested by emerging doubts is to keep offering words of encouragement like: “You need to keep remembering what we’ve talked about in our sessions. It won’t matter unless you put in in action. I understand that in many instances you’ll feel nervous and ambivalent about making certain choices or entering in the direct line of fire. No problem at all. You can always ask a relative or close friend for moral support. Nothing you do has to be done alone; never again!” Sometimes an encouraging remark to this effect is all that’s required to activate the new day-to-day approach to life and personal relationships. 

Barring any setbacks of this kind albedo brings about a more transcendental mode of being that holds off the ego’s identification with affect. Those who attain it are no longer at the mercy of their own problems and miseries. In fact, those who attain it are now acutely aware that their own passions, the pains and sufferings spawned by the circumstances of their own lives, are not really their own but rather an echo of psychic blueprints that have travelled across space and time, as far back as humankind’s coming to consciousness. This is divine Sophia or wisdom and the best thing about wisdom is that it comes free of charge. Looking through her whitened looking glass, the dark veil of mourning is but a necessary setback if we are to become the enlightened and spiritual beings we yearn to be. Lunar consciousness is intuitive, a scintillating mirror ready to reflect new archetypal projections coming from the realm of the individuating Self into the phenomenal world and fabricate a more inclusive life myth. In short, the albedo is contemplative vision.

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