The pictures showing the processes of the alchemists depict changes and transformations taking place in hermetically sealed bottles. The bottle here is a symbol of the human soul or body and the secret changes within the bottle are symbols of the soul’s growth.
In fact, all kind of furnaces and heating apparatus play an important role in occult symbolism. The first step was to burn or boil away all the darkness of the “lower man”. The true alchemist wanted to burn away the lower part of his being and have access to the stars.
- Calcination as a first step was ment to separate the impure from the pure. One of the methods was the Bath of Mary, a gentle heating as a reference to a special spiritual exercise of breaking down the ego, passions and attachment to material possessions. It stood for the death of the profane or the extinction of all interest in life and in the manifest world, reduction to Prima materia or first matter, the starting material. The corresponding colour is black. The element id Fire.
- Putrefaction or dissolution is a second step towards the Great Work of the alchemists. It’a a result of the first one – calcination– and consists of the separation of the destroyed remains. Further breaking down of the artificial structures of the psyche. Let go our mind of control and generate new energy from the waters held back. The element is Water.
- Solution – the third step, denoted the absolute purification of matter. Rediscovery of our feminine or unconscious part of our minds, the true self. The colour is white. The element is Air.
- Distillation – the fourth, was the “rain” of purified matter, i.e. of the elements of salvation isolated by the preceding operations.
- Conjunction symbolized the joining of opposites (the male principle of consciousness with the female principle of the unconscious); empowerment of our true self. The colour is red. The element is Earth.
- Sublimation symbolized the suffering resulting from the mystic detachment from the world and the dedication to spiritual striving. It corresponds to gold, the colour of the Sun.
- Philosophic congelation – the biding together inseparably of the fixed and the volatile principles.