Heidekolb's Blog

On Alchemy, C.G.Jung and Ecological Intelligence

February 10, 2010

C.G. Jung was a radical thinker. He was a man who ventured into unknown psychic territory and wrested a map out of the unconscious, which he thought was able to link the present moment with a remote past. To his surprise Jung found in alchemy a model that he identified as the basis of our modern way  of perceiving things. In other words, a model for how we experience reality. Alchemy provides a pattern of transformational processes right under the threshold of consciousness, which all energy follows.

The patterns are there. Seeing them is the challenge.What is this curious practice called alchemy? There is more than one answer. For one it is the art of seeing beyond material surface. It is a way of seeing we have lost since Cartesian thinking removed the enchantment from our world. Common knowledge holds that chemistry evolved out of alchemy. That is true, but it was also the end of the alchemical vision, as chemists believed their experiments took place only on a mundane physical level.

Alchemists had a different vision. Alchemists knew that energy and matter could not be separated. They knew that there was no such thing as inorganic matter and that indeed all matter was infused with an element of consciousness. They knew that you and I are much more connected than mundane science wanted us to believe. They also intuitively knew what quantum physicists confirmed at a later age, namely the alchemical principle of  the experimenter’s consciousness influencing the outcome. You and I matter! Our conscious and deliberate intent is much more powerful than the authorities in charge want us to believe.

No wonder that alchemists were discredited, persecuted, burnt at the stake and ridiculed.Jung saw and understood that. There is a heretical and subversive aspect  to Jung’s work , at least from the perspective of our cultural dominant, which I cherish.

Alchemy describes a pattern of transformation. All creation and transformation follow the cyclical movements of falling apart and coming together on the spiral of evolution. There is one and it falls apart and becomes two and of that a third (something new) emerges and out of the third comes the oneness again that is the fourth. (This is a paraphrased version of the axiom of Maria Prophetissa, a third century female alchemist).

This is the movement of evolution and it is the movement in the mandala in Jung’s work. 

If we transfer this movement into the evolutionary process of human consciousness then the falling apart (the two, the duality) represents a confrontation with a previously unknown content that ultimately belongs to the oneness that we are part of, but not necessarily conscious of. A constant flow between what is conscious and what is unconscious is established, which is best captured in the image of the Klein bottle 

As materialism and one-sided rational thinking weaken but still dominate the Western world view and as we have brought ourselves to the brink of our own destruction, we must ask ourselves: Where are we in relation to matter, to earth? Where are we in relation to psychic reality? The South African Jungian Analyst Ian McCallum suggests that we desperately need to develop what he calls “Ecological Intelligence”, an intelligence the alchemists seemed to instinctively possess.

McCallum describes ecological intelligence as a way of understanding and articulating our evolutionary links to all of life, to all living things, as a debt we owe to the earth and as our contribution to the evolution of human consciousness. An ecological intelligence is also an intelligence oriented towards the feminine principle. It is the fourth we have been waiting for. It may be the next step in the evolution of human consciousness. The feminine principle is the principle of relatedness and of completeness.  Relatedness and completeness are the opposite of  perfectionism that so often drives our inner and outer lives.

Ecological intelligence can be experienced as a deep empathy for the other in the outer  world, but also for what feels other within  ourselves. The other as it manifests in other races, ethnic groups, but MacCallum particularly sees the other in the natural world, in nature, animals, plants.

It is the beauty of our evolving relatedness.

..for beauty is nothing but the terror, which we are still just able to bear. R. M. Rilke

I highly recommend: McCallum,Ian: Ecological Intelligence. Rediscovering Ourselves in Nature. It is a wonderful book.