Modern Alchemist

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Preview The Modern Alchemist

Book of Lambspring; video of illustrations


The Alchemical Quest
The Modern Alchemist: A Guide to Personal Transformation
(c)1994 by Richard and
Iona Miller


THE BOOK OF LAMSPRINCK (or Lambspring) is a 14th Century alchemical text, written by a German mystic whose name was Lambsprinck. His work shows that his orientation toward God and the Universe was that of a Christian Qabalist. The Qabalah was originally a Jewish mystical system of self-development. However, in medieval times the faiths of the pagan, Christian, and Jew melded with Greek and Egyptian philosophical thought in Hermetic philosophy. Through this system of active aspiration, the mystic sought union with his own higher aspects and God.

Why is Lambsprinck's process, with its intriguing pictorial series, relevant for us today in our modern world? Because the same processes which motivated this manuscript are still active in each of us, although we may not be consciously aware of them. This book is a description in alchemical terms of the process of psychological transformation.

This process was shown by C.G. Jung to be analogous to the process of individuation or coming-to-wholeness, experienced by many modern individuals. Hermetic philosophy is the common ground between alchemy and depth psychology. It is a means of acquiring a working relationship with the dynamic forces of the subconscious and the divine process represented by the Self.

According to Jung, we do not need to enter therapy to begin the process of inner transformation. Basic changes or different phases of life experience, or crises may precipitate radical psychological change. How we relate consciously to these changes determines whether they will be for the better or worse.

We begin to wonder what is really happening to us and seek answers within, perhaps through examining our dreams or fantasies. If we are lucky enough to be transforming to a greater degree of mental health and spiritual maturity we may experience a psychological rebirth. This is a natural process which leads us toward, and tantalizingly close to, our own unique perfection.

How does psychology define this inner dynamic which guides the process of individuation, leading toward the goal of wholeness? In Jungian Psychology, this symbol-forming power of the psyche is called the transcendent function. Before the transforming power of the higher Self is perceived in imagination (personified through one's Angel, Guide, or Guru), it is known as a symbol-forming function.

Its purpose is to mediate between that which is unknown and that which is manifest. It performs its function by creating unifying symbols from pairs of opposites. In this manner, it gradually unites the fragments of psychic life. It creates a series of symbols which transfer consciousness to a higher perspective or awareness by reconciling opposites.

By synthesizing pairs of opposites into a symbol, the transcendent mode creates a method of transition from one set of attitudes to the next. An individual ego may work more effectively with subconscious processes by consciously attaching value to these symbols presented by the transcendent function.

Our task is to discover these transpersonal meanings, whether they are presented to us through dreams, attitudes, or behavior patterns. If the meaning were consciously understood, it would not be presented as a symbol. Therefore, once its meaning is realized over a period of time, another symbol appears to take its place, reflecting the new situation.

The transcendent function (seen as one's Inner Guide, Angel, Self or Guru), embodies the transmuting power of the symbol. The personification of the higher Self allows us to take up a relationship with the inner Self, and encourages dialogue and the development of feelings of loving devotion for this inner friend.

All the symbols and archetypal figures in which the transformative process is embodied are vehicles of the transcendent function. It is the union of different pairs of psychological opposites (like male/female, good/evil, Sol/Luna) in a synthesis which transcends them both.

The uniting symbol only appears when the inner psychic life is experienced as just as valid, effective, and psychologically "real" as the world of daily life. Fantasy animates both our inner and outer "realities." This is why mystics call time, space, and the ego three great illusions.

The transcendent function, or Inner Guide, restores the balance between the ego and the unconscious. It belongs to neither, yet possesses access to each. It forms a bridge for the soul to ascend, by lying in-between and participating in both inner and outer life. By relating to each independently, it unites ego and the unconscious.

The first glimmerings of "Knowledge and Conversation" with one's Angel are very similar to the descriptions of "peak experience" developed by Abraham Maslow. A peak experience is the result of the drive of the spirit in search of itself. The experience is self-validating, self-justified and has intrinsic value of a unique nature for each individual.

There is an intense experience of the nearness of God, or divinity. This is the first state of grace, or mind-expansion. It is a response experience where one feels a sense of Presence. The true mystic takes this experience as his point-of-departure, and grows in grace from it. The poet or artist uses this recurrent experience as a basis for artistic production (or inspiration) and personal euphoria.

When the contact is stabilized, the Guide can take the Soul up to the heights of mystic rapture. A by-product of this contact is that the adept may consult at will with his guide for directions in any matter. This contact is known in Eastern systems as "getting the radiant form of the Master." It occurs only after one penetrates the lower Astral Plane through meditation.

Images of the Self appear spontaneously throughout the entire transformative process. It appears in all symbols from the highest to the lowest. At the beginning of the great work it appears in animal forms such as snakes, birds, fish, horses, or beetles. It shows through the plant forms of flowers and tree symbolism. The symbols of the Self in human forms may be contaminated with other archetypes, since pure forms are rarely seen outside of mystical meditation.

For example, if one's image of the Self were contaminated with the anima/animus, the vision would be of a vibrant solar woman whose aura radiates like the sun. Contaminated by the shadow, one might experience a magical creature like Faust's Mephistopheles. When one is able to perceive the radiant form, one sees the archetype of the Self in its pure form, uncontaminated by the personal complexes which denigrate its refulgence.

You may be asking by now where alchemy comes into this process, and what the value of harking back to a seemingly medieval system of psychology may be. Alchemy, as a transcendental search or quest, sought the redemption of the soul of matter, and its subsequent reunification with spirit. Alchemy sought to redeem the corruptness of the physical body by finding divinity within it. Alchemists projected their own individual process of psychic transformation into a pseudo-chemical process in their retort vessel.

Alchemy actually sought to establish harmony between the voluntary action of man with the involuntary action of nature. In other words, alchemists sought unification of conscious and subconscious processes, through a spiritual redemption of the physical body. This is especially true of Christian alchemists, since the body was considered inherently evil. One solution is to visualize the physical as a metaphor for psychic transformation.

The imagery of alchemy is valuable since it concretizes and characterizes any personal experience of the unconscious. In other words, any process of psychic transformation, whether through psychotherapy or natural transformation, may be described through the metaphors of alchemical process which relate to specific stages of development.

The operations of alchemy describe induction into consciusness from the original undifferentiated state, termed the prima materia. Rigid aspects of the ego or personality are broken down and remolded in the image of the Philosopher's Stone through such operations as calcinatio, solutio, sublimatio, coagulatio, circulatio, and coniunctio. The number and order of these operations may vary, but the gist of the process is consistent among people.

In this version of THE BOOK OF LAMSPRINCK, key words from the original text are elaborated using current concepts from Jungian psychology. The stages of the alchemical process are corresponded with psychological states of awareness and experience. Various phases of the alchemical Opus, or Great Work, are described in every-day psychological language. The pervading motif of THE BOOK OF LAMBSPRINCK, reconciliation of the father and son, is dealt with in terms of the Puer/Senex complex. It is the motivating archetype behind this alchemical presentation.

THE BOOK OF LAMBSPRINCK provides a paradigm through which we may experience a restoration of the alchemical philosophy. This is possible when we are able to see the process repeating itself in the lives of individuals on a daily level in our moods and personal reactions, such as dreams and habitual behavior. This alchemical and psychological process provides a basis for unification of vision among matter, soul, and spirit.

There is value in a revival of THE BOOK OF LAMBSPRINCK, since it has an eternal or immortal quality. As presented, it provides a model of applied philosophy, relevant to the contemporary spiritual quest. It outlines a psychology of religious endeavor. It proves insight for students of philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics.

The prints may be used as focal points for meditation during the various stages one may find oneself experiencing. As symbolical images these prints exert an active influence on the subconscious. Visual contact with them stimulates the process they represent. In other words, they evoke subconscious forces into dynamic, conscious activity. They might be used as starting points for creative imagination (see THE HOLISTIC QABALAH, Philo Stone). They provide a guiding path for the journey into the subconscious.

Despite the interesting overlap in paradigmatic approaches, there is a crisp distinction between the world views of psychotherapy and spiritual discipline. What is considered meaningful and what is regarded as trivial depends on which archetype is most strongly activated in your own psyche. Though it speaks frequently of soul and soul-making, psychology may regard spiritual discipline as a transcendance fantasy, or escapism.

On the other hand, one's spiritual teacher might regard analysis as a waste of time spent concentrating on illusions rather than lofty absolutes. We can derive benefit from both schools of thought if we maintain a metaphorical approach to both, since both may seem "as if" they are "real." Certainly we can find meaningful guidance from both. We need to find connections between spirit's upward drive and matter's encumbering embrace. This was the alchemist's path to liberation.

The original woodcuts which accompanied the text have been beautifully rendered into pen-and-ink drawings be Seattle artist, Joel Radcliffe. Though these images have appeared in numerous sources, they have been photographic reproductions of the woodcuts, poorly reproduced and lacking aesthetic appeal. The laborious 7-year process of refining the plates tempered Radcliffe's Soul, and he remained faithful to the style and content of the originals. We hope you enjoy them, as we have.


What's New with My Subject?

Each chapter of TMA begins with a finely-rendered pen-and-ink drawing from the original woodcuts.


My name is Lambsprinck, born of a free people.
I am entitled to carry this coat of arms by right and with glory.

I have understood pure wisdom;
Through art I have penetrated to the root of everything.

And God's grace has granted me,
Wisdom together with Understanding.

For this reason am I Author of this Book,
Revealing something that is truly worthwhile,
So Rich and Poor may understand it.

What I have to disclose has no equal on Earth;
Something that I have studied deeply,
While examining the foundation of truth.

You will also find this Book is true,
If you read it often and heed its contents.

In this way you will come to learn Wisdom,
Making the best use of this gift that God grants you.

O God! Who is both end and beginning,
We beg You through Jesus Christ,
To guide our intellectual purpose,
So that we may thank You with unreserved praise!
Desiring only to perfect Your will on Earth,
Using this book and all Your creatures only for good.

Establish us in Charity,
Born of the Holy Trinity.

Now with God's Help I will begin,
Keeping nothing back.

If you understand me correctly,
You will return from Error.

There is only one substance,
In which all others are concealed.

Do not let this discourage you;
Time must test your patience.

You must will to seize the noble fruit!
Do not be put off by time and hard work.
For you must ripen the seed of the metals,
Day by day over the weeks.

Thus you will discover,
And perfect the whole art of this pure wisdom.

Something the whole world believed impossible,
Though convenient and easy.

We cannot publish it openly,
Or all men would laugh at us.

For this reason remain silent and live in obscurity,
So you may live in peace without trouble,
Keeping a pure reputation before God and all men.

Thus is the Art kept secret.

Now I shall end my Introduction,
And begin to describe the Art,
In words and pictures;
So the light may quite clearly shine.

Thanking the Creator of all things,
The first picture follows.