Alchemy – The Art of Transformation to the Philosopher´s Stone
The night sky’s translucent skein – your raised face and eyes. Pure smoke of lit cloud drifting across the moon
Solutio in every way continues the work done in nigredo — in fact so much so that these two stages are really two sides of the same coin that we can imagine side by side just as the black and the white of the yin and yang symbol merge with and mirror each other.
In solutio, we come into the whiteness beyond the blackness: we pass from emotion into feeling, from the solar plexus towards the heart. Emotion and feeling are frequently confused — solutio clarifies the difference. Emotion belongs to everything we’ve seen in the nigredo, whereas feeling, always softer, more receptive, freer and clearer, is something quite different. It connects us to spirit.
At the same time, emotion, rightly understood, is the fuel that feeling can come out of through purification and fire. So now, after the descent of the mind in nigredo, in solutio we are rising — we are going into the heart. Solutio brings us to that core alchemical saying solve et coagula, dissolve and re-form, which we can understand here as purify and re-form, or re-unite. The essence of solutio is a whitening, which is why it is also called ablutia (ablution, i.e. washing), baptisma (as in ‘baptism’, here with fire as well as water) and albedo, with its connotations of ‘albino’. It has specifically to do with the soul, which is the deep part of us that is feeling, and spirit, which is the higher part that reaches beyond our minds. It is where Luna and the feminine principle come into their own as a transforming power.
Solutio is literally the softening or purifying of the soul itself, then, freed from the carapace of the ego as we’ve seen with nigredo — and as a stage it is associated with Jupiter first and then the moon. Jupiter is the antithesis of Saturn. Where Saturn is all about constriction, Jupiter relieves and releases us into expansion — like a breathing out. The moon, particularly the full moon, completes the stage as the silvery whiteness itself. An analogy for the experience of solutio is the progress through the lunar phases from dark to full. Also, just as we have an association between Saturn and Pluto in nigredo, so here we have Neptune, planet of the deep sea and dreaming. These are the astrological associations. So we are now one step closer to the sun, and we go by way of the moon. The moon comes first.
The white stone — as opposed to the black sun — is where light becomes solid as a result of repeated distillation and coagulation (solve et coagula). It is a pure spiritual substance and the end-point of the Lesser Work. For some alchemists it was the goal of the whole Work — we will see, however, why the rest went further.
So we have the ash at the end of the night; we have the blackened dead body and the blackened mass inside the flask. The alchemist is stretched out on his bed in exhaustion and then outside, in the dark, rain begins softly falling. Slowly the darkness begins to lighten and from inside it emerges a white dawn of clouds obscuring the sun … There is a rising. And inside the flask, with an initial cooling; ‘this principle [the ash] flies through the alchemical air, in the microcosm of the egg, receiving the celestial and purifying influences from above’. ‘ So there is an upward movement, a freeing like breathing out.
And then ‘it falls again, sublimated, on the New Earth that must eventually emerge’? This points ahead to the coagulatio, the next stage. What we see now is a repeated washing, congealing and redissolving of the matter inside the flask as the fire is slowly intensified. It is basically a process of heating and vaporizing which is equivalent to sublimation, which literally means to ‘raise up’. Sublimation is the key here.
It is the whitening that the Rosarium refers to as
the whiteness called air'; and in terms of the washing, the water involved here isthe water of wisdom’ seen as tears. This is the process of purification and it is as thorough as it is intense, as the heat gets stronger. The matter is whitened through to the bone — and this refers to all the layers of the corpus or body. It continues, with repeated cleansing, until the whiteness begins to become strong and clear — until clarity dawns, in this strange lunar day that could also be night. This is the purification of the body that is the first part of solutio and what happens inside the flask.
The second part has to do with the spiritualization of the body which the white stone is also a metaphor for, in terms of ourselves. The heat is turned up again until from the repeated distillation and coagulation of the body (the material), appears a residue — the stone. And as the substance of the stone begins to emerge, a beautiful and unexpected thing happens: colours appear, colours that fan out and cover the whole spectrum, preceding the whiteness itself.
This is called the cauda pavonis or peacock’s tail; opening out, irridescent, it represents wholeness or a healing, an eruption of beauty in the psyche as well as the miraculous, for the spiritualization of the body is a miraculous thing.
The white stone itself is the whiteness or purity beyond all colours and effects. It is pulverized into form until all trace of the blackness is gone — so it is a physical reality, not just an idea, which is why some alchemists (Flamel and Valentinus included) see it as Christ: The white stone involves a real heart opening, with all the pain that can entail, and out of that comes the White Rose, the bloom on the stone that is transcendent, realized and earned — that is love.
Once the whiteness is attained, the alchemist is said to have enough strength to resist the ardours of the fire. This means we have become strong enough to not get swept away and lose either the ground under our own feet or our centres. We have become strong enough to hold spiritual energy without getting blown away or inflated. So we can see why the purification process has to be deep and real. And then finally, out of all of this, appears another vital residue. ‘Out of the womb of his mother and sister, Isis or mercury,’ it is said, ‘appears the red king” — a warm, alive residue of earth, signifying rebirth and a new quality of manhood.
And Sol and Luna? What happens to them here? In the beginning, they and their vision are dead. Then the rain comes, falling over their tomb. Slowly there is an awakening, a healing and a softening which the rain brings — one morning, perhaps, as they wake up in bed together. The day stretches in front of them and there is work to do. But a change has taken place: they are not the same people they were, even if outwardly they appear so. Something else is possible now that could not have happened before.
And this is their work of whitening. For a time their sexual activity is suspended. It is heart-work they have to do now, as the pelican suggests — it is the heart they have to open, or return to.
This is going to take time. In all of this, Luna is important, with her resources of softening, communicating, listening and, above all, feeling, In this, she connects to the soror mystica and beyond her, to Lady Alchymia herself. For Sol, the process is a dissolving, for Luna a purifying as a result of the expression of her qualities as a woman.
We can see this again in terms of sulphur and quicksilver. In the beginning, in the nigredo, he resists her and they fight. Now he dissolves in her and her element, so his heart — or anger — dissolves in her coolness. But it is more than this. If we can understand sulphur as representing a level of masculine, abstract or conceptual understanding, then it has to ‘dissolve’ before it can become something that is really alive — something with soul and feeling.
So the sun is eclipsed by the moon, if you like. Solutio is also pictured as women washing sheers — humbling, grounded work that we might rather not do. It strips us of our defences. And it takes a lot of water. And the water and the fire, as they alternate, change each other’s quality. The water becomes more fiery and the fire more watery. We can understand this emotionally and in terms of feeling. More of an actual blending takes place. When Sol and Luna meet again in closeness, they are changed — and here they are sometimes pictured as birds as well, holding one another, linked as if in a circle, as ‘two in one’. Alchemically, they meet at full moon — and again the Rosarium is quite specific:
Cast the female upon the male, and the male shall ascend the female.’
As the Rosarium states it, emphatically:
Thus you have the true Mercurius extracted from the two bodies mentioned above, well-washed and digested. And I swear by God that no other Mercurius exists in the universal way than the one just declared, on which depends the whole philosophy. Who speaks otherwise, speaks false.
So Sol and Luna are reborn, more tender now and much more vulnerable. Why? Because they know the fire and they know that what holds them together is something beyond them which only openness of heart can penetrate.
And this reveals the real point of the solutio, which is that this work on the soul moves inward into what we can’t see but can only feel. Here, in this cleansing, we have the potential to regain, as Burckhardt puts it, ‘the original purity and receptivity of the soul’. So now the soul is free, it is alive in our bodies, and soul and spirit can meet …
Solutio is purification, but again, it is not an easy process. We experience it first through pain and tears, grief that may have been bottled up for years. It is likely to take us into the hurt places that need recognition and healing even into actual heartbreak, as that may be the only way our hearts can really open.
The thing to guard against in solutio is staying in the womb for too long. If we do, the water tends to turn bitter. We must actually be reborn, after all. We must come out of death into Love.
heart-fire illumines eyes meeting the moon with a moon that mirrors heaven with heaven so moon-beams may ignite the sun & huntress dart flame from each hair of his mane till we learn from the luminous ocean we bathe in the first distillation of love