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The Four Stages of Alchemical Work

The Four Stages of Alchemical Work

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Published by Jo Hedesan
The article investigates the four alchemical stages of the Great Work, nigredo - albedo - citrinitas - rubedo, and the symbolism associated with these.
The article investigates the four alchemical stages of the Great Work, nigredo - albedo - citrinitas - rubedo, and the symbolism associated with these.

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Published by: Jo Hedesan on Jan 27, 2009
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04/17/2014

 
The Four Stages of Alchemical Work 
 By Jo Hedesan. Published in Esoteric Coffeehousewww.esotericoffeehouse.com on 26 Jan 2009.
I have intended for sometime to write a little piece on the stages of alchemical work.There are several books on alchemy, but I’m afraid not very many talk in a clear manner of the alchemical process itself. Surely, throughout the centuries alchemicaltechniques underwent a natural evolution, and matters are complicated by the personaltouch each alchemist set on the process. However, it appears that the Westernalchemical tradition maintained a consistency of four phases expressed in colors:
nigredo
(blackness),
albedo
(whiteness),
citrinitas
(yellowing) and
rubedo
(redness).This habit of expressing alchemical change through color was called ‘dyeing’ andunderlay a belief that colors expressed fundamental stages of nature (1). Carl Jungthought this sequence originated with Heraclitus, although no reference from theancient Greek philosopher is given (2).Alchemical work was rooted in the philosophy of a gradual but irreversible process of improvement in nature. Perhaps the best summary of the worldview pervadingalchemy was Mircea Eliade’s lesser known work 
The Forge and the Crucible
.According to him, alchemical practice was rooted in a primordial human impulse as
homo faber 
(3). The fundamental idea was that Nature was perfectible and that it wasin a perpetual process of self-improvement. All metals tend, or wish, to become gold,and they do so over centuries of change. However, man can intervene and quicken the process of natural growth. This human implication into the course of Nature wasaccompanied by a feeling of sacredness and reverence toward her. This was not inert,inferior matter: but matter hiding the very seeds of divinity. It was by delving deepinto the heart of Nature that the alchemist discovered the secrets of Creation andimmortality.When starting off on his quest, the alchemist had two main choices: the dry or the wet path (4). The dry path was quicker, but harsher; the wet was longer but safer.Whichever path was chosen, it was through fire or fiery substances, mainly, that the purification of metals was achieved. That is why alchemy was famed as ‘Art of Fire’and the alchemists, ‘Philosophers by Fire’(5).In the dry way, the ‘first matter’ – which was usually a metal such as gold, tin or copper – was immolated by fire, vitriol, antimony or 
aqua regia
. This process wascalled calcination. In the wet way, the same reduction was achieved through putrefaction (6). The result was dark ashes – hence the first stage of the work wascalled
nigredo
(black).
 Nigredo
was a destructive, sorrowful stage – the momentwhere an existing thing (a gold piece, for instance) was brought to dissolution. Tosymbolize this dark moment alchemists often used figurative images like the Black Crow, the Raven or the Toad (7).Continuing on the right path, often an intermediary state, the so-called ‘Peacock’sTail’ occurred – an explosion of colors in the flask. Associated with the goddessVenus, the peacock was a beautiful display of all the colors of the work (8). Mixingother substances in the flask, the blackness of the matter eventually disappeared to

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