Sublimatio is an elevating process whereby a low substance is transformed into a higher form by an ascending movement; i.e., a solid being heated turns into a gaseous substance and rises to the top of the vessel. Earth becomes air; fixed bodies are volatilized; the inferior (infers) becomes superior (superus); it is the movement from Below to Above (Hermetic axiom: As Above, So Below). The body – or material undergoing the chemical process – is ‘spiritualized’; psychologically this refers to objectively viewing ones circumstances from a ‘higher’ conscious state, dealing with a concrete problem in a conceptualized fashion.
Edinger (1991) mentions that at times simply finding the correct words through which to describe or explicate an experience or affect of a patient is sufficient to alleviate what negative symptoms or feelings arise from it; for example, explaining that one experienced an ‘anima possession’ (p.171). In short, it’s turning a problem on its head, and revealing it for what it is outside of the personal limitations of expression; when something becomes objectively identified rather than internalized as holding power. Sometimes before healing can begin a patient must recognize they are sick; this alone can heal the patient, in that their awareness shifts to Above. Its like a man existing with a problem at sea level, who then, for the first time climbs to the top of a high rise, and sees the problem below him in proportion to his newfound perspective. It no longer seems as powerful and daunting as it did before, in fact, it’s so small he has to imagine it’s existence below him!
Personally I’ve experienced the sublimatio process many times. Perhaps the most difficult to accept, though the most obvious to perceive, was looking at my alcoholism from an objective point of view. Often, however, the rationalization of my alcoholism as something objective gave it a certain leaden power; it wasn’t until I was able to ascend above it’s earthy weight, and view it from a spiritual, higher, position Above it, whence it became clear to me that the problem’s solution was paradoxically present in the immediate though by necessity, and force of altering habits, would take at least as long as I had been indulging in it to remove the plethora of associations I had built around it. When able to view myself separate from the addiction, my experiences, withdrawal, and pain as temporal, fleeting (much like my emotional duress), I was able to objectively see sobriety as a process, rather than a perfect solution to the underlying problem (whatever that may be). When I lit the fire, let the alcohol vaporize, dissipate into the aether, its ethylene grip lost subjective hold over my spirit, and a newfound perspective was allotted, which did not grant freedom, but allowed at least freedom to be a possibility – freedom from the physical nature of addiction, consciously accepted as a choice no longer worth indulging. It was clear that, much as the substance changed its form, I too would need to change mine. If the subtle or not-so-subtle spirits I would imbibe were no longer to be my biological need, no longer shaping both my mind or body, I’d have to find an alternative expression and means for altering my conscious-awareness, which (much like the discipline required in focusing all of ones efforts on finding alcohol on daily basis) would revolve around focusing ones efforts on bettering myself.
To make matters even clearer, as sublimatio symbolism revolves around Ascent images, such as flying, mountains, or ladders, I was to come to my objective realization of my addiction and it’s many facets on top of a Mountain, which overlooked the entirety of San Diego from the coastline of Carlsbad to the high rises Downtown; one could even see across the border to mountains in Mexico, or on a clear day Catalina Island silhouetted against the horizon. It was on top of this mountain, up a 7 mile windy dirt road, that I’d spend 4 months practicing sublimatio until finally I’d realized and experienced a subtle change in perspective sufficient to keep me moving forward in a positive direction. And much like the sublimatio process being that of a spectator, a Platonic form, or Cassiel, I was intra-spectating during the 4 months I spent ‘getting sober’ on top of the mountain. It took four months until I could return to ground level permanently and enact the changes which I was able to objectively integrate in a psychic sense, or in a pre-experiential way; the Mountain or Ascent and time spent Above was practice for what action was to precede from my Body Below. The “Work” or my Self revealed through a shifting consciousness eventually returned to its original state of Becoming, no longer sunken and buried ‘neath the clay-earth, no longer suffocating on it’s own delirious excursions into the Shadowy, no longer desiring digression and unconsciousness or a return to that primal Mother (no longer an adept of Dionysus, the horned god), rather longing for clarity and expression of the spiritual via the subtle and timeless re-emergent Self: not Above anyone, nor Below them, simply centered in both the Above & Below, outside even the sphere of the Ego.
The Ascent and Descent imagery is seen in Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis (1963, p. 216 – 225) interpretation of Maier who “glimpsed paradise from afar, he has found the animal soul and the sibylline anima,” in his pursuit/search/peregrination of Mercurius across the four continents (quadernity of the psyche). – The experience of the fourth quarter, the region of fire (inferior function), for Maier is an ascent/decent through the seven planetary spheres. The purpose is to unite the powers of Above & Below. The “sun-moon child” laid in the cradle of the 4 elements, attains power through them and the earth, rises to heaven gets power of upper world, returns to earth, in “gloria totius mundi“. The union of opposites as an ascent to heaven and descent to earth in the bath of the tincture; earthly effect is perfection of minerals, resuscitation of souls and transfiguration of the animal body – which was before dark. The Lapis is identified with the “son of man” however must end with its ascension – which contradicts the widespread conception of lapis as tincture (applied to base substances of lower world) for the upper world is in need of no medicine (incorruptible); thus,
a redeemer who proceeds from matter and returns to matter gradually became unthinkable. Those who identified the lapis absolutely with Christ stopped working in the laboratory, and those who preferred laboratory work slowly gave up their mystic language (p.223).
The Journey Maier takes through the Planetary Houses (the Above; 7 mouths of the Nile; 7 Planetary Houses) is a freeing of the soul from the shackles of darkness, widening of consciousness; illumination. From Saturn: Senex, mysterious, darkest, distant, maleficus; to the Sun in search of the Boy Mercurius; from darkness to light (224). Maier must traverse from Saturn to the Sun (Gold) and back again, to meet Hermes Trismegistus on Saturn as the House of the Beard (wise old one, etc..); the journey there and back, the heroes archetypal journey, etc… (227). The movement through planets is a movement through colors, albedo to rubedo, as the increasing participation of consciousness, and synthesis of opposites (229-230). On secrets, hermetic nature, rosicrucian, etc…importance of not the dubious nature of what is actually kept secret, but of the act of keeping something secret, as contents of the unconscious (232-234). Finally, leading us full-circle, as most alchemical operations do, we return to the regeneration in Sea-Water via the aqua pontica (aqua permeanns) – whose chief function is ablution, in alchemy this is the “lato,” or impure body (235). The water into grave; solutio; “mystery of baptism” and the corresponding stage in the opus is the solutio, which signifies the total dissolution of the imperfect body in the aqua divine, its submersion, mortification, and burial.
The putrefaction takes place in the grave, and the foul smell that accompanies it is the “stench of graves” (236). Dissolution into the spirit, the body’s volatilization or sublimation, corresponds chemically to evaporation, or any rate to the expulsion of evaporable ingredients like quicksilver, sulphur, etc. Psychologically it corresponds to the “conscious realization and integration of an unconscious content” (238). Salt, fiery nature, associated with glass and sulphur, as Mark the evangelist had said “every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt (239). And interpretation and Meaning of Salt as a synonym (and Ash) for albedo or dealbatio, is that its principle meaning is Soul as “spark of the anima mundi“, Eve, “white woman”, feminine, for “salt of our magnesia…Soul is the aqua permanens, arcane substance which is the transformer and transformed, nature which conquers nature”; yet it is the human soul imprisoned in the body as the anima mundi is in matter, “and this soul undergoes the same transformations by death and purification, and finally by glorification, as the lapis” (240).
It is in a sense the redemption of Self from its original unconscious state, and even experienced in lesser ways by extracting meaning from heavy moods or concrete events (Edinger, 1991, p.123). Sublimatio is also described as purification:
When matter and spirit are intermixed in a state of unconscious contamination, they must be purified by separation. In this impure state, the spirit must first seek its own purity and will see all that pertains to flesh and matter – the concrete, the personal, the desire-laden – as the enemy to overcome (Edinger, p.125).
It’s through sublimation that we learn how to see ourselves and our world objectively. It is our ability to Reason, our faculties for a dual-life in matter and spirit; our natural inclination towards abstraction; how we are able to perceive both what’s external as visual stimuli, and externalized as internal images projected into the realm of the extra-sensory; in a way, it’s our cognitive ability both transcend and hypnotize our selves via ‘spirit’ or ‘mind’ over ‘matter’. Rightfully so, Edinger (126) points out the dangers of taking sublimatio to the extreme, which is the psychopathological result of disassociation. Though disassociation is natural to a degree, as we are all ever-disassociating ourselves in order to function properly, becoming absolutely disconnected from the earthy, bodily nature results in many forms of mental disorders and psychoses.
Edinger, Edward F. Anatomy of the Psyche. Peru, Illinois: Open Court,
Jung, C.G. Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1970. Print.
Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1963. Print.
Article by Matthew Charles Moran