We’ve looked at some of the major symbols of the Azoth and begun the process of opening our mind and vision to another way of looking at ourselves and our world. To review this material, read my November 7, 14 and 21 posts in the category: Azoth.
Now it is time to consider each of the seven major phases or operations of alchemy included in this alchemical mandala. These phases are the major steps in a continuous cycle of transformation that we can use to change our lives and our world in the ways we want. Together, we will work with what alchemists referred to as the signature or essence of all things in the world. This essence, or “Star of Man” as the alchemist Paracelsus thought of it, is represented in the Azoth as the rays that emanate from the alchemist.
The first of these rays points downward to the Cubic Stone and contains the number 1. This ray represents Calcination that is thought of by chemists as a natural process that takes place over time. As individuals, we experience it as the challenges of our daily lives, the trials we must overcome to maintain our sense of who we are and why we’re here. To alchemists, Calcination is a deliberate choice, a controlled emergence into the Fire of life with the intent to let go of our ego and our connection to the material temptation of our lives so we can free our passion and ignite our transformation. In the alchemical perspective, Calcination is the work with the Element of Fire to burn away the beliefs, emotional baggage and material concerns that cover and restrict our true essence.
Working with Fire and allowing the flames of Calcination to reduce our outer persona to blackened ashes is the first or Black Stage of alchemy. It is a necessary step to free ourselves for the later Work. On a spiritual level, many of us relate to this stage as the “dark night of the soul.” On the material plane, it is the release of the material things that restrain and restrict rather than support and energize us. On a psychological level, Calcination is the “death of the ego” and therefore can be one of the most painful steps we take toward the rewards of our transformation. In order to enter and emerge from this stage, we must release people, places and things that live at the center of our soul and appear to sustain it. This is very difficult because it is only after we give these parts of ourselves to the flames of Calcination that we are able to realize these perceived treasures have enslaved us and weighed us down. We will find that it is not necessary to let go of everything we love and cherish, only that we give it all to the Fire and then realize what is essential to our transformation.
Look again at the first ray of the Azoth standing for Calcination and you will see the symbol of the metal lead and the planet Saturn above the number 1. The planet Saturn and his metal, lead, represent everything that is old, heavy and inert. Both the planet and the metal are associated with a slow moving, stubborn and even melancholy disposition. Yet, buried in their darkness are the sparks of light. As the poet, writer and singer Leonard Cohen says: “In everything there is a crack. That’s how the light gets in.”
At the top of this ray of Calcination, nearest the alchemist, is a square that represents Salt which symbolizes a buried, crystallized consciousness that can be freed and released by the other phases or operations of alchemy. The breaking down and dissolving of this Salt to allow for its crystallization at a higher level of development can be considered one of the purposes of alchemy.
Immediately clockwise from this ray is a scene that represents Calcination. We see a black crow sitting on top of a skull. The crow is the Soul Bird that survives the fire of Calcination in which everything else is consumed in the flames. In the ring outside this image is the Latin word: Visita which means to start a journey.
We will revisit Calcination after we’ve visited the other six phases of alchemy depicted in the Azoth and at that time learn meditations that are fashioned after the fires of this first phase.