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.
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.
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.
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