Thursday, September 20, 2012

Punk Alchemy: Burning Away Impurity (Calcination)

My recent posting on the alchemical symbolism of The Fifth Element was anything but arbitrary. Alchemy- the symbolism and psychology of which, rather- has intruded into my life in fascinating ways recently.

It's been more than a lifeline; this has been a challenging  year for me in many ways, and without the context of the Alchemical process, it might be rather bewildering as well. Bear in mind that I'm referring not only to the Jungian interpretation of said process but a distinctly punk rock reinterpretation thereof.

Punk Rock was a reaction to the post-Beatles school of thinking that argued that the old, pre-Rock rules must be reasserted. Technology, virtuosity, and intellectualism were the watchwords of the post-Psychedelic progressive rock movement, which reached its first flower with King Crimson, led by my guitar god, Robert Fripp.

But even Fripp came to rebel against the claustrophobic strictures of prog, which had become a cliche once the drugs and egotism had stolen away the muse from his class of players. Fripp found liberation in working with self-described "non-musician" Brian Eno, who was more punk than the punks themselves in the mid-70s.

And that's the strain of punk (there are hundreds of them, many of them totally useless) that we'll take inspiration from. The school which learns the rules before throwing them out and starting again.

The first stage of the Alchemical Great Work was Calcination, in which impurities were burnt away and only the purest essence remained. Jung saw the allegory of Calcination in the analytic process where the various untruths and disguises that the patient hid his or her true self behind were exposed and discarded, or burned away. This was usually the most difficult and fraught stage of analysis, since these impurities had many years to accumulate, and to become part of the patient's identity.

Many of us don't have the discipline to undergo this process ourselves. Many of us are clever enough to create new masks to replace the old ones. Perhaps a Jung would be wise enough to recognize when the purification process was truly complete, but many lesser clinicians would not.

For many of us, external realities are taking care of this for us. I've always said that you only know a person's true character under pressure, and we're seeing a lot of people who once hid behind masks of respectability be exposed as anything but once the heat is turned up. It's been ugly in some cases. But perhaps clinging to the impurity of Ego is the father of all monsters.

I'd written earlier how The Alchemical Tarot seemed to be a particularly useful tool for me lately. It remains so, and I can't help but wonder if the surreal, almost comic book-like imagery of Alchemy plays some role in this. Truly powerful images are themselves pregnant with psychic power, and I can't help but wonder if Robert Place's well-studied imagery is part of the magic there.

But the Tarot--which is not something I'm usually given to working with-- seems to be particularly effective given this Saturn transit I've been dealing with. I had a Saturn-in Cancer transit from 2002 to 2005- which literally nearly killed me- but at the same time it was a time when these symbol systems spoke more clearly to me.

And now this other transit (don't ask me how I won the jackpot and got myself a second go-round) seems to be similar, in that not only have I been forced into this Calcinatio process, but these extraordinary ways of knowing seem to be accessible.

The first transit took a lot of things away from me, things that I valued, but it also led directly to Our Gods Wear Spandex and The Secret Sun and all of the rest of it. In many ways, I get the feeling that this second transit is putting me on another path- or perhaps back on the path I was before- removing valued distractions that I may look back on and see rather as obstacles.

Of course, when you're dealing with all of this you tend to focus more on the stress and unpleasantry, but the first go-round helped give me a greater perspective, leading me to take action before action is forced upon me.

Unless you're one of the richer-than-ever 1%, things are probably pretty rough sledding for you as well. But you're probably discovering how much impurity there was in your life, how much non-essence you've been convinced was somehow important. To my way of thinking, only the life of the Mind is real, everything else is a trap, meant to imprison us in the material world.

The very imagery- the language- of Alchemy defies the material world, just as the Dadaists and the Surrealists did. Looking back it's almost impossible to imagine these guys were really trying to literally turn lead into gold. It's hard to imagine they were trying to do anything literally. Their riches were their art and their understanding of transformation.

So a challenging time can become literally that in the context of Punk Alchemy- a challenge to burn away everything that's been holding you down or keeping you enslaved. In this context, the Calcinatio is a process of liberation from the traps of the past.


  1. You know, the last three years have been really rough for me personally, as far as concerning a family member, Raj is probably one of the only people here who I've shared my problems with. I know this, and I have to always remind myself that all things transition, change, and any present reality that is sucky won't remain that way forever. But when you're dealing with unpleasant situations, it's difficult to remind yourself of such truths.

  2. Beautifully put, Chris. And the Hey thanks Chris. The Punk Alchemy moniker rings true. Have myself been immersed in the winnowing process for awhile now. Main piece of writing that opened the door was Marie-Louise von Franz' "Alchemy". Can't say enough about that book - it's the red tincture itself! But in the begining, as now, it was/is the tarot for me as well. Several different decks, all speaking different languages but the imagery in every case coming up the same again and again. I would say, for myself, that it was, at first, the mind that opened to these anomalous, humbling, startling messages, but then it started ringing true in my heart. When mind is no longer the sole perpetrator, nor the sole interpreter, nor the sole anything, when it begins its' work in tandem with the neglected physiology, the suble-body energy, and that energy reaches down below the upper chakras into the depths, that's when it started to happen in earnest. The energy of alchemy went all the way down to svadisthana and muladhara, those base places of the secret waters and the sacred earth, and that's when, for me, the bubble burst. I ended up going straight to hermetic alchemy and bypassing much of the later neoplatonic stuff for awhile afterwards, in an effort to dig deeper below. Letting it come, like Eno, like Fripp, yeah, that is the way of it. It's so personal though, isn't it? Process, and maintenance 'on the varied path' are all. Sometimes any form of so-called 'progress' is virtually indistinguishable from newly born anguish. And the dreams they flow like wine..
    It's really amazing how you manage to put the things that matter into words, Chris, like the true dharma bum that you are. And hey, if you're looking for that one tattoo, the one that illustrates best for you, in all your parts, this narrow road to the tru (punk) rock, you just might find it among the fabled imagery of alchemy.. Onward to the coniunctio. You're a shoe in..

  3. Punk Alchemy; I love the name. What you describe is something I've been working with for awhile now... Alchemy of a sort. Definitely the "Great Work"; definitely not for everyone. Hope you don't mind if I adopt the name.

    There are various methods for accomplishing the Great Work but as long as one does it, that's what matters. And for what it's worth, the "Great Work" is a life time thing, although I'm sure you're aware of this.

    Enjoy the journey. I enjoyed the post.

  4. Great interpretation Chris.
    As a long-time chymist of the Moist Way, may I observe one thing?
    "To my way of thinking, only the life of the Mind is real, everything else is a trap, meant to imprison us in the material world."
    This is a mindset likely to lead to a very long, painful time in Nigredo. I found such dualities need to thoroughly dissolved before you can attain the Coagula.

    My very best wishes on the Royal Road.

  5. Hey Chris...great post with many personal resonances. I always find something of value at the Secret Sun and from commenters too. It's a favorite I visit almost daily---thanks for your deep insights and labor of love that you share so eloquently here.

    Have played around with a few different Tarot decks as well as other forms of divination; Animal Spirit cards, runes, I Ching but the one that speaks to me most is the Tarot of Transformation who's art and interpretations offer me a lovely balance of mindful Sacred Play in the dance of Divine Masculine and Feminine. Can't tell you how many times a reading had me laughing through tears at the synchronicity of the nudges and winks from the Great Mystery!

    Check it out:

    Blessings to you, yours and all who drink at this sweet Well in the oasis of Life!~~~jo

  6. I like the positive energy behind this post.

  7. Chris,

    I came to the southwest with a huge uhaul trailer and my pick up full of stuff I " needed" . About 3 tons worth. The 12 year sojourn out here is nearly up. I am down to maybe 8'x4'x4' of all that is left. About 200 lbs maybe, could be alot less. The shedding of it all. The need for less physical in my life right now. I am going back to new england to reconnect with the awe of life. To make amends . To pay attention to gifts that carry no weight .

    This latest posting resonates in a way that words fail.

    Be well

  8. And even more synchronicity from your posts, I was just discussing calcification, punk rock and Dadaism the other day. I too am dealing with calcification. I had a dream the other night of climbing a tree, looking out between the branches and realizing the next step was into the dark and off a cliff. I woke up before I took it. It's one I need to take while awake. I'm going to check out the Alchemy Tarot cards. Thank you for your post.

  9. Hi Chris,

    Saturn entered Cancer in July 2003 and headed for a conjunction to your natal Sun a few months later. Prior to July 2003, Saturn was in Gemini where it made a conjunction to your natal Mars and a possible opposition to your natal Moon (depending on the exact time of birth) in 2002. Yes, these transits can be difficult, but nowhere near as difficult as a transit of Pluto. Mid 2002, Pluto was transiting opposite your Venus/Mars midpoint while squaring your natal Pluto/Uranus. At the same time Pluto was squaring your natal Pluto/Uranus conjunction, aspects that are usually connected to what one calls a mid-life crisis. Then sometimes around 2004, transiting Pluto moved to oppose your natal mars and possibly conjunct your natal Moon (again depending on exact time of birth), and square your natal Saturn...I am not surprised that "it nearly killed you".
    Right now, the only transit you should be concerned with is the present transit of Pluto and Uranus to your natal Sun. The square of these 2 heavenly bodies is bringing revolution and evolution on a global scale. It is not much of a stretch to imagine the influence it has on a personal level. As above, so below.

  10. I would also like to add that the symbol of the Phoenix is associated with Scorpio and its ruler Pluto. Pluto symbolizes sex, death, rebirth/resurrection, evolution, degeneration and regeneration.

    Astrologer Catie Stewart has the following to say about Pluto:
    "As lord of the underworld, Pluto has dominion over all things that are hidden from surface appearance. His treasures are the mysteries that lie at the core of birth and death, destruction and creation, erotic power and elemental transformation. Pluto is a compulsive power that burns and consumes, and then transfigures and resurrects. It is abundantly represented in myths of descent into the underworld that purge, transform and remake – Hades and Persephone, Inanna and Ereshkigal, Isis and Osiris; and with gods of destruction and regeneration, death and rebirth - Dionysus, Shiva, and the primal creative and destructive mother goddesses Shakti and Kali. Pluto represents to us what is dark and myserious, taboo, what lurks beneath the thin veneer of civilization and the ego, and the hidden power beneath the surface of the Earth, that is periodically unleashed with great, uncontrolled fury."

    So like I said before, the whole world at the moment and for several more years is under the energies of Pluto in Capricorn in square to Uranus in Aries. Both of these signs are cardinal, so anyone with planets or angles in cardinal signs (Aries, Libra, Cancer, Capricorn) are in the thick of it. More so people who were born in the mid-sixties and who have the conjunction of Pluto and Uranus in Virgo.

    So how about Uranus? Well to cut a long story short, it is associated with Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods to give to humanity. Make of that what you will...

  11. A bit off topic,but have you seen this exciting comic project -

    Looks like a winner to me.

  12. Hey Chris,

    Another excellent post, man. The quality of writing on this blog is always exceptionally high. It's a continual delight. Punk Alchemy is something I can definitely get behind. I think it's a powerful, resonant idea.

    I see it as connected to the themes you discussed in your Re-Enchantment Dialogues, only with a sharper focus on stripping away the unnecessary; becoming intellectually and spiritually leaner by realizing what matters and what doesn't. The Calcinatio process is often difficult and painful, but it does reap incredible rewards.

    The last couple of years has also been pretty tough for me and my girlfriend, and constantly reminding ourselves who we really are and what we stand for has been a great source of strength. I'm excited about the future of The Secret Sun. Great work, man.


  13. Do you know the writer of Black Dog Star? You seemed to run in the same circles and other than having a dream of a midnight sun I wouldn't have started to follow your blog.

    Anyway I had a hugely strange sync with that new Spiderman movie and it contained not one, two or even three but over 12 things this writer talked about over course of the blog, it was actual unnerving when I became aware of them.

    Paw prints, red hand, 108, 23, lizards, lighting bolts...etc

    And I was hoping to get some light on what the heck that was about!