Alchemy and Yoga: Traditional Technologies of Tranformation
From the most ancient
times, human beings have practiced disciplines of psychospiritual transformation
with devoted energy and intention. Modern systems of psychotherapy are
the inheritors of three great traditions of transformation, in which
the human is seen as engaged in purposive processes of exploration and
integration in many realms of consciousness. In this essay I describe
some of the common methods used, as well as the major metaphors for
possible definition of shamanism is that it is the disciplined approach
to what has been variously called "non-ordinary reality", "the sacred",
"the mystery", "the supernatural", "the inner world(s)", or "the otherworld".
Psychologically speaking, one could say these expressions refer to realms
of consciousness that lie outside the boundaries of our usual and ordinary
perception. The depth psychologies derived from psychoanalysis refer
to such normally inaccessible realms as "the unconscious", or "the collective
unconscious". This would, however, be too limiting a definition for
shamanism, if "unconscious" is taken to refer to something within the
individual, i.e. intrapsychic. Shamanic practice involves the exploration
not only of unknown aspects of our own psyche, but also the unknown
aspects of the world around us, - the external as well as internal mysteries.
are three traditional systems of consciousness transformation, systems
of belief and practice in which the exploration of these non-ordinary
realms is pursued with discipline and intention: shamanism, alchemy
and yoga. Of these, shamanism is of course the oldest, and the one with
the widest distribution all over the globe.2 Alchemy, which
developed independently in Europe, the Near East, India and China, shares
with shamanism the goal of consciousness transformation, the quest for
healing, knowledge and power, and the profound respect for Nature. Alchemy
could in fact be regarded as being a development of a certain type of
shamanism, i.e. that practised by miners, smiths, metalworkers, toolmakers,
and their descendants.3 The psychospiritual purposes and
techniques of the alchemists came in time to be all but forgotten, and
overshadowed by its applications in the experimental physical sciences.
comprises, like shamanism and alchemy, a certain kind of world view,
and a systematic technology of changing consciousness. Compared to the
shamanic and alchemcial traditions, here is less emphasis on connecting
with nature, animals, plants, minerals or metals, -- and more focus
on interior, higher states of consciousness. In some of the Indian yoga
teachings there is a kind of detachment from and transcendence of the
realms of nature, matter and the physical body. Important exceptions
to this general tendency are tantra yoga in India and Tibet,
and Taoist yoga practices in China, both of which are closely allied
to alchemy in those cultures.4 Alchemy in India and China,
as well as Tantra and Taoism, emphasize the transmutation of the physical
body and practices of regeneration and longevity, along with the seeking
of higher, transcendent states of consciousness.
schools of psychotherapy, especially those based on psychodynamic depth
psychology and the newer so-called "experiential therapies", employ
many of the methods and techniques of consciousness change that were
known in the ancient systems of shamanism, alchemy and yoga. In some
instances, for example in both Freud's and Jung's borrowing of alchemical
ideas, the derivation is quite conscious and deliberate; in other cases,
for example the use of inner journeys or imagery sequences, psychologists
are re-discovering or re-inventing methods that have been known and
practised for centuries in these older traditions.
in this essay, to outline some of the techniques of transformation
used in the traditional systems and their modern derivatives; and to
compare some of the key metaphors of transformation that are
used in these systems to both describe and to activate a consciousness
transforming process. Before doing so, I would like to comment on two
important differences in goals and values between the traditional systems
and modern psychotherapy.
first difference is that shamanism, alchemy and yoga are not focussed
only on the solving of psychological problems, as is most psychotherapy.
Rather, these traditional systems operate from an integrated world-view,
in which physical healing, psychological problem-solving, and conscious
exploration of spiritual or sacred realms of being are all considered
as aspects of the way, or work, or practice. A shamanic ritual such
as the Native American sweat-lodge, for example, is simultaneously a
healing, a psychological therapy, and a form of worship including prayer.
Alchemy's interest in healing is evident in their quest for the panacea,
the "cure-all"; and the deep spiritual commitment of the genuine
alchemists, who sought to produce the lapis, the wisdom stone,
is likewise apparent. Similarly, in yoga, the spiritual purpose, the
attainment of higher states of consciousness is paramount. Physical
or psychological problem-solving may occur, but is almost a secondary
purpose of psychotherapy on the other hand is not generally to bring
about physical healing, nor does it concern itself normally with spiritual
values or religious issues. The goal is usually framed in terms of psycho-social
adjustment, or the resolution of intrapsychic conflicts, or interpersonal
communication problems. The split in the Western worldview between body,
mind and spirit is reflected in the rigid separation of the roles of
physician, therapist, and priest. There are however encouraging signs
that this situation may be changing: the contribution of psychological
factors to the origins and the treatment of diseases is increasingly
acknowledged. The work of C.G. Jung with archetypes, of Abraham Maslow
with the notion of self-actualization, and of Roberto Assagioli with
psychosynthesis, has pointed the way toward greater recognition of spiritual
factors; and the transpersonal psychology movement explicitly has attempted
to integrate the spiritual dimensions into a comprehensive understanding
of the human psyche.5
second important difference in goals and values is that psychotherapy
focusses on changing or helping the other -- the patient, client, victim,
sufferer; whereas in the traditional systems of shamanism, alchemy and
yoga, the emphasis is on self-transformation, self-healing, self-understanding.
While it is true that the more sophisticated approaches to psychotherapy
are well aware of the relevance of the therapist's own perceptions and
feelings to the therapeutic process, these tend to be categorized as
"countertransference" reactions, and seen as an impediment to the conduct
of therapy, to be eliminated if possible. On the other hand, while it
is true that helping or healing others is an important application of
shamanic work (in healing shamanism especially, as distinct from power
shamanism or sorcery), such work is always based on the shaman's own
inner process: typically, the healer shaman may contact his or her own
power animal or ally, in order to facilitate a similar contact with
inner sources of support and healing for the patient or sufferer. The
wide-spread concept of the "wounded healer" points to a direct personal
engagement of the healer with the sickness or wound of the patient,
-- the shaman may journey into the inner world in order to combat or
destroy the "spirits" or "forces" that are manifesting as physical or
comparison of shamanism, alchemy and yoga as traditional systems of
consciousness transformation, with modern psychotherapy as a problem-solving
approach that uses similar methods and similar metaphors, must be tempered
by the awareness that the traditional systems see the human being as
an integrated body-mind-spirit continuum. Their approach seeks to recover
a way of knowledge that can not only heal and solve psychic problems,
but lead to ultimate concerns of human destiny and the meaning of life.
notion that grew out of the early research on psychedelics was what
became known as "the set-and-setting hypothesis". According to this
hypothesis, widely accepted by consciousness researchers, the actual
content of a psychedelic experience is a function of the set (intention,
beliefs, expectations, personality), and the setting (physical and social
context); with the drug playing the role of a trigger, or catalyst of
the transformative process. The same principle can be applied in other
transformations of consciousness, not involving drugs: the trigger or
catalyst of an altered state might be hypnosis, breath, sound, sensory
isolation, meditation, stress, and so on, and similar features of subjective
experience can occur across the different modalities.
of consciousness transformation then refers to the specific triggers
and catalysts that are used to bring about altered states, in which
the healing, or insight, or vision, can occur. Furthermore, the systematic
and continued use of a given technique to induce altered states constitute
a kind of training or practice. The shamanic, alchemical or yogic initiate
is, after all, not only interested in a one-time experience of heightened
consciousness, but rather in a more or less permanent development of
the capacity to enter into such states at will, to gain knowledge from
them, and to apply them in healing and problem-solving situations. Thus
the psychologists' distinction between "state" and "trait" changes is
important to keep in mind here also. The same stimuli or agents that
function as triggers for altered states, become, when used with the
appropriate set and in the relevant context, ingredients in an integrated
practice, discipline or sadhana.
of directed imagery or visualization are very widespread.
A work by Jeanne Achterberg reviews the use of imagery methods in traditional
shamanism, and compares it to the role of imagery in contemporary medicine,
such as the Simontons' application of visualization in the treatment
of cancer. Achterberg distinguishes preverbal imagery, where "images
communicate with tissues and organs, even cells, to effect a change";
and transpersonal imagery, where "information is transmitted from the
consciousness of one person to the physical substrate of another". The
shamanic practicioner in training is directed and prepared to "see"
objects, plants, animals, spirits in the inner realm, the non-ordinary
state. Such inner seeing, which may be intensified by drumming, or hallucinogenic
plants, is not regarded as "imagination" in the sense of something that
is "made up", a constructed fantasy. Rather, it is regarded as seeing
in non-ordinary reality, with perceptible results and impact in this
reality (as, for example, if the patient gets healed). Numerous accounts
now exist of shamanic visionary experiences, both those collected from
native informants, and those gathered from modern Western individuals
who have taken up the pratice of shamanic work.6 Under this
heading, we can also consider dreamwork as an important aspect of shamanic
imagery technology: images are explored and "amplified" (Jung's term)
regardless of whether they occur in dream or waking states.
use of imagery methods in alchemy is pervasive; so much so, that Jung
and his followers regard all of alchemy as primarily a system of symbolic
imagery. Edward Edinger writes, "what makes alchemy so valuable for
psychotherapy is that its images concretize the experiences of transformation."
7 Alchemical literature is filled with engravings showing
mythological figures and symbolic creatures and objects, -- suggesting
that conscious contemplation of such images was an important aspect
of the alchemical transformation process, called the opus. It
is likely that alchemists systematically practised visualization techniques
as they performed experiments in their retorts and furnaces, looking
for the symbolic images in the fire that the ancient books and pictures
portrayed.8 Jung believed that the alchemists projected the contents
of their own unconscious into the matter undergoing various transformations.
I would differ from this view only in that it seems to me that they
projected certain core mythic and symbolic images consciously,
according to the prescribed tradition.
use of imagery, both in waking and dreaming states, in the various branches
of yoga is well-documented. Especially in the Tantra traditions, both
the Hindu and the Buddhist forms, visual symbolic images of psychic
anatomy are pervasive. The chakras and nadis are described
in great detail, with all their associated colors, geometric shapes,
animals, Sanskrit letters, and so on. The awakening energy of the root-chakra,
called kundalini, is visualized as a serpent rising up a central
pillar, or two serpents coiling back and forth across the central axis.
Yantras, or geometrical diagrams, including the mandala,
are constructed as external supports or expressions of the interior
domains. In Tibetan Buddhist yoga there is even an elaborate and sophisticated
system for working consciously with dream images, -- an area Western
research is only now beginning to explore with the concept of controlled
use of waking and dream imagery in psychotherapy is too well known to
require much elaboration here. We might note that whereas in the Freudian
or Jungian depth psychological approaches the emphasis is on letting
unconscious images emerge into consciousness, in other systems, such
as psychosynthesis, Gestalt, or various newer forms of imagery therapy,
including hypnotherapy, the emphasis is more on consciously selected
and developed sequences of images. In such approaches the guide or therapist
typically may "set the scene" as it were, or suggest some initial framework,
which the patient then explores, develops or amplifies.
use of breathing techniques, as means to develop special states
of consciousness, is well-documented in the yoga traditions, although
its use in shamanism or alchemy is more uncertain. In Patanjali's classic
exposition of the ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga, breath
control (pranayama) is the fourth step, coming after various
behavioral and moral restrictions, and asanas, the physical postures
of hatha yoga.10 Moreover, prana refers not only to
the physical breath, but also to the breath-like subtle life-force,
that is accumulated, preserved and distributed throughout the body by
the use of special breathing techniques.
breathing techniques have not, to my knowledge, been documented in shamanic
traditions, nor in alchemy, the practice of certain kinds of chanting,
such as the so-called "throat music" of the Inuit, and other very rapid,
rhythmic chants, appears to involve a kind of accelerated, rhythmic
hyperventilation, which probably induces an altered state. The circular
or continuous breathing that is required to play the didjeridu
of the Australian aborigines, or the long, curved horns of the Tibetans,
may have a similar function.
modern psychotherapy breathing methods have not been employed in any
consistent sytematic manner, until fairly recent times. In Gestalt therapy,
as well as in Reichian and bioenergetic types of bodywork, attention
to deepening breathing beyond the restrictive patterns of the "armored"
individual, plays an important role. The primal therapy of Arthur Janov,
the rebirthing method of Leonard Orr, and the holotropic breathing therapy
of Stanislav Grof, are examples of modern approaches, in which controlled
hyperventilation is used to facilitate the emergence of very deeply
repressed unconscious material.11
use of sound as a trigger or catalyst of heightened states of
consciousness is also wide-spread in all traditional cultures. We leave
aside the important role of group chanting, with or without dancing,
in various kinds of tribal rituals, which probably also induces collective
alterations of consciousness. For the induction of shamanic states of
consciousness, or inner journeys for healing or the acquisition of knowledge,
it appears that the method of rhythmic drumming is the most prevalent
technique, besides hallucinogenic plants. There is some evidence that
this method involves "auditory driving", or entrainment, of cerebral
electrical rhythms. Shamans who employ this method often refer to the
drum as their "horse", or "vehicle": the beat seems to carry the awareness
naturally and effortlessly through various inner landscapes. Other sound
techniques in shamanism would include the already mentioned didjeridu,
as well as various kinds of rattles, conches, and of course chanting
in alchemy methods of sound cannot with certainty be identified, partly
because of the general secrecy and intentional concealment of the technical
aspects of the alchemical art, in the Indian and Tibetan yoga traditions
the use of mantra, or specific syllables and formulas that have
definite psychic and spiritual power, is pervasive. Though there are
some analogies to the role of prayer in the Western religious traditions,
mantras are said to have definite effects on consciousness through
their sound quality alone, quite apart from their meaning content. Particular
mantras are said to activate or energize certain chakras,
for instance. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition there are practices
of overtone chanting, which also have quite definite consciousness heightening
effects, -- on the listener, as well as, presumably, on the performer.
It has been suggested by some that the practice of Gregorian chants
in the European medieval churches and monasteries, may also have had
trance-like effects; but this has not as yet been proven.12
cannot be said that sound or music plays any particularly important
role in psychotherapy in the West. Certainly there are schools and teachers
of music therapy, in which listening to selected pieces of symphonic
music is used to "tune in" to and support various emotional states (with
or without the use of psychedelic drugs); and some hypnotherapists or
imagery therapists use music as accompaniment to their procedures. But
the focussed use of selected sounds for the induction of altered states
has not been explored to any great extent; with the exception of music
for relaxation or un-stressing, which is often little more than a kind
of New Age background music.
now to the role of psychoactive and hallucinogenic plants
in the traditional systems, their role in shamanic practices has
been amply documented by Schultes and Hofmann, by Furst, Wasson, Dobkin
de Rios, Harner, Weil, and others.13 The role of hallucinogens
in traditional systems of transformation is discussed elsewhere in this
volume in more detail (see ch. 5). Suffice it to say that hallucinogenic
plants play an important role in shamanic traditions worldwide, and
especially in Central and South America. In these cultures, the ingestion
of hallucinogenic plant preparations in order to obtain knowledge, for
healing, for prophecy, for communication with spirits, for anticipation
of danger, or for understanding the universe, appears as one of the
oldest and most highly treasured traditions. The use of hallucinogenic
plants is integral to the animistic worldview of traditional cultures,
in which humanity is in a relationships of co-consciousness, communication
and cooperation with the animal kingdom, the plant kingdom and the elemental
knowledge of the possible use of hallucinogens in alchemy is much more
limited. However, the use of solanaceous (nightshade family) hallucinogens
in European witchcraft, which is related to both shamanism and alchemy,
has been documented by Harner.14 Likewise, in Chinese Taoist
alchemy, the use of botanical and mineral preparations to induce spirit-flight
and other kinds of altered states has been discussed by Strickman.15
The sparseness of the record on this subject may be due to the persecution
and elimination of both alchemists and witches.
the case of yoga, the classic theoretical statement on the role of hallucinogens
is found in the fourth section of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Here,
the author lists four causal factors that can lead to the development
of siddhis, -- which are magical or psychic capacities: birth,
herbs (ausadhi), sacred sounds (mantras), the discipline
of inner fire (tapas), and meditative absorption (samadhi).16
In this work, which is not tantric, only the last of these four methods,
meditation, is discussed any further.
use of hallucinogens as an adjunct to tantric yoga practice is known
to this day in India, among certain tantric Shaivite sects in particular.17
Those schools that do not use drugs tend to regard those that do as
decadent, as belonging to the so-called "left-hand path" of Tantra,
which also incorporates ritual food and sexuality (maithuna)
as valid aspects of yogic practice. Under the influence of 19th century
Western occult and theosophical ideas, this left-hand path tended to
be equated to black magic or sorcery. In actuality, the designation
left-hand path derives from the yogic principle that the left side of
the body is the feminine, receptive side. Thus, the left-hand path is
the path of those who worship the Goddess (Shakti), as the Tantrics
do, and incorporate the body, the delight of the sense, nourishment
and sexuality into their yoga. Thus, as in shamanism and in alchemy,
we find in tantric yoga a strand of the tradition that involves respect
and devotion to the feminine principle, the mother goddess, the earth
and its fruit, the flesh and blood body, and the seeking of ecstatic
appears incontrovertible that hallucinogens played some role, of unknown
extent, in the transformative traditions of shamanism, alchemy and yoga.
If we regard psychotherapy as, in some respects, the modern descendant
of these traditional systems, then a similar application of hallucinogens
in psychotherapy might be expected. This has in fact already occurred,
as the various studies of psychedelics as adjuncts to therapy in alcoholism,
terminal cancer, obsessional neurosis, depression, and other conditions
and Metaphors of Transformation
studying the various systems and techniques of consciousness transformation
over the past twenty-five years, it has become apparent to me that while
there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of specific methods, there
are a limited number of core metaphors that have been used to describe
these experiences of transformation. To give an example, is the ideaof
"awakening": that our ordinary consciousness is a kind of dream-sleep
state, and that a more awakened consciousness, an enhanced objective
awareness, is possible. In Opening to Inner Light I describe
ten of these basic metaphors of transformation, found in shamanic art
and ritual, alchemical symbolism, yogic texts and the writings of mystics,
in myth, legend and fairy tale, and in the reports of modern individuals
undergoing psychotherapy, or having significant dreams and visionary
experiences.19 Metaphors, symbols and analogies are evidently
indispensable for the description of transformative experiences and
of non-ordinary states of consciousness.20
metaphor of the journey is widely used in shamanism in at least
two senses. The non-ordinary, shamanic state of consciousness, induced
by drumming or hallucinogens, is an experience in which the practicioner's
awareness "leaves" the ordinary reality of time, space and body for
a limited period of time, exploring the "otherworld" to obtain healing
or knowledge, and then returning to ordinary, body-based consciousness.
This parallels the metaphor of the "trip", that was spontaneously created
by users of psychedelic drugs in the sixties. Another metaphorical meaning
of "journey" relates to a longer-lasting, ongoing process of personality
transformation, in which concepts of self and world-view may undergo
a profound change as a result of guided practice, or sadhana.
This kind of journey of self-transformation, which also involves a departure
from the conventional world of home, family and culture, parallels the
mythic hero's journey, as described by Joseph Campbell, in his Hero
With a Thousand Faces.
journeys, or altered states of consciousness, may be one of three types:
lower world, middle world, or upper world. Travelling downward, horizontally,
or upward in space are the chosen metaphors for these kinds of
altered states: no actual physical travel is of course involved (the
physical body is usually lying on the ground). They are appropriately
chosen metaphors, because they aptly characterize the phenomenology
of these states. In lower world journey one feels and perceives oneself
to be falling, sliding, or crawling down, into or under the earth. In
upper world journeys one feels and perceives oneself rising up, flying
or floating through the air or sky, or climbing a mountain, or climbing
the world tree. In middle world journeys one is travelling horizontally,
through an interior landscape that may be in many ways very different
from exterior reality, but is somehow perceived as being on the same
level. This metaphor of journey or travel is found equally in the traditional
lore of shamanic cultures, and in the reports of modern individuals
practising shamanic methods.
the point of view of a psychology of consciousness that espouses a multi-dimensional
model of the human constitution, such as is found in esoteric and theosophical
teachings, as well as in Vedanta, one would say that a lower world journey
is a movement of awareness to a level "below" the normal waking consciousness
(hence referred to as sub-conscious ). A higher world journey,
on the other hand, involves movement to a "superior" level than the
normal waking level. Esoteric teachings describe these levels as differing
in vibratory rate, or frequency rate, as the notes of a musical scale.
The lower levels or worlds are lower or slower in frequency rate, denser,
more involved in matter, and the physical body. The higher levels or
worlds are higher or faster in frequency rate, subtler or less dense,
more like the traditional "heavens", or etheric and astral planes.
theme of ascent to higher levels of consciousness is of course central
to the raja and tantra yoga traditions, where it is sometimes symbolized
by the ascent of the kundalini energy up the physical body axis.
In Vedanta and Yoga traditions the meditator is described as ascending
through the levels or "sheaths" of successively finer substance. Relatively
rarer do we find, in the Asian meditation teachings, processes of downward
movement described. This is one of the major differences of yoga from
both the shamanic and alchemical work: in yoga there is more emphasis
on transcendence, on rising up into higher states of absorption, or
dhyana, that are progressively more devoid of form and content,
to the pure formless states of samadhi or nirvana. Only
in the tantric tradition, and the related alchemical way of rasayana,
do we find much concern with the transmutation of physical substance
and form per se, the downward involvement into matter for the purpose
of refining it.
upper world journey is one of a class of metaphors of ascent: this can
include, besides flying or floating through the air (such as can also
occur in flying dreams), also riding on a giant bird (eagle or wild
goose), or a "magic carpet", or climbing a mountain, or a pillar, or
a tree. This connects with the very wide-spread tree of life symbolism,
found in shamanic cultures throughout the globe. The shaman typically
reports that he has climbed the tree, and obtained information for diagnosis
or healing, perhaps by a certain leaf from the top of the tree. The
tree is described as being at the center of the world, and sacred. The
different branches on the tree represent stages in the ascent, and subsequent
descent: they are symbolically analogous to the planes or levels of
consciousness in esoteric and occult lore. The trunk or axis of the
tree is the axis through which we can ascend to the higher dimensions:
it is therefore an interdimensional axis. And the individual axis and
world axis are aligned, so that climbing one means climbing the other.
Hence the prevalence of the axis mundi image in connection with
the tree of life.
tree of life symbolism is also prevalent in the hermetic tradition,
where it is associated with regeneration. There are images of Hermes
standing beneath the tree in two forms: as old man and as youth. An
alchemical text advises that the old man should eat of the fruit of
that tree, until he becomes a youth. "For the alchemists, the tree of
knowledge has little to do with the making of judgements--separating
good from bad; it is more a symbol for inner 'seing', for insight into
the inner structure of things, for seeing how everything hangs together.
To them...the tree symbol is a vast reservoir of imagery and psychic
energy. The 'tree of the philosophers' is, to the alchemist, the axis
of the transformational work, the unfolding opus. Significantly,
the Old English root word for 'tree' and 'truth' is the same: it is
shamanic metaphor of climbing the tree also appears in the Indian yoga
traditions, especially Tantra, in the notion of the central axis, called
merudanda, staff of Meru, which is also the sushumna axis
on which the chakras are aligned. The bottom chakra is called
the "root chakra" (muladhara); and the awareness of energy moving
up this axis of transformation is symbolized by the ascent of the coiled
very widespread theme in shamanic training and apprenticeship is dismemberment
or shamanic sickness. Shamans in training often expect to become sick
or wounded as part of their initiation, or voluntarily submit to the
experience of feeling oneself being dismembered, cut open, broken into
small pieces, -- and then reconstituted, often by the animal ally or
other spirit guide. Psychologically, one could say that this is a metaphor
for the psychic fragmentation that any one may experience to a greater
or lesser degree at various phases of life. The psychotic, with this
shattered language and fragmented thinking, is perhaps an extreme (and
involuntary) form of this kind of experience. In contrast, the shamanic
initiate who intentionally undergoes a dismemberment experience as part
of his training, "feels he is being delivered from the limitations of
the ordinary world and empowered to perform visionary, healing, and
protective work for himself and the members of the tribe."22
imagery occurs in the yoga traditions also, where the ability to separate
the body into different pieces and reassembling them at will, is recognized
as one of the siddhis of an advanced yogi. There are eye-witness
accounts of the 19th century Indian saint Sai Baba of Shirdi performing
such practices, visibly to others. Likewise, in the Tibetan Vajrayana
Buddhist teachings, admittedly strongly influenced by the indigenous
Bon shamanism, there is the gruesome chod, or "cutting off" rite,
in which the yogi invokes a demon to devour and transmute his body,
with all its negative past karmic patterns. The mythologies of Osiris
and of Dionysus also feature stories of the god's dismemberment and
alchemy, the operation or process that most nearly corresponds to dismemberment
is separatio. This is discriminative perception and attention,
which carefully distinguishes, analyzes, the different aspects, or elements
of consciousness. It is akin in some ways to the discriminative wisdom
of meditation, and the "taking apart" process of psychoanalysis. Separatio
was seen as the necessary prerequisite to healing, and new growth. Transformation
then consists in first recognizing the degree of fragmentation that
exists, which is done by the methods of interior visualization, -- and
then integrating and harmonizing these separated fragments and pieces.
Discriminative separation precedes and prepares for integration and
wholeness, as death precedes and prepares for rebirth.
and essential to all traditions of transformation is the notion of opposites
or dualities and their reconciliation. There are at least three
major pairs of opposites, whose mutual balancing and integrating is
important in shamanism, and alchemy and yoga as well: the balance of
male and female; the reconciliation of good and evil; and the integration
of human and animal consciousness. In each case, the task is to recognize
the duality that exists within us and then to find ways to transform
the opposites from a state of divisiveness and antagonism to a state
of complementarity, or peaceful co-existence.
ubiquity of the androgyny motif is well-known: the central belief
here is that all human beings are, in essence, of dual nature, though
one side or the other may be unevenly developed. Shamans, alchemists
and yogis, as well as the mystics of almost all religious traditions
have concerned themselves with the project of integrating these polarities.
In shamanic cultures the mythology of Father Sky and Mother Earth is
the cosmic dualism on which this integrative project is based. Shamans
in some cultures may practice a ritual transvestism, or even live for
long periods of time completely as the other sex does, in order to bring
about a better balance of the masculine and feminine energies. In alchemy,
Sun and Moon, King and Queen, are the symbolic representatives of the
male and female energies. The "alchemical marriage" between fire and
water, is the union from which arises the new "philosophers' child".
In yoga practice, we also have the notion of solar and lunar currents
of energy flow, the ida and pingala, which must be balanced
for the yogi to attain liberation. And in Jungian psychotherapy, the
process of individuation calls for integration with one's interior sexual
opposite, the anima or animus.
very important duality is that of good vs. evil. In Jungian terms
this is the notion of integrating the shadow, our unacceptable, destructive
tendencies. There is an inner adversary (in Christian terms, the devil),
that we have to know and recognize, if we are to cease projecting this
split-off enemy image on to other people. "Them" as the enemy, who gets
blamed for everything that goes wrong in our life, is possibly the most
pathetic and the most dangerous of all our delusions. Shamanic warrior
training and practice, whether against sorcery spells, or against evil
spirits that are attacking the shaman or his/her client, become most
relevant here. In alchemical literature the dark, destructive aspects
of the psyche are symbolized by the nigredo (blackness), that
has to be transmuted and uplifted through the alchemical fires of purification;
and also by various monsters and predatory creatures that vampirize
and cannibalize the pure life essence. In the yoga traditions, negative
psychic complexes are described as samskaras, the karmic binding
patterns resulting from past actions, that keep us trapped in the same
old negative attitudes. These samskaras are dissolved and reduced
through the practice of meditation.23
third of the dual pairs mentioned above is most important in shamanism,
i.e. the cultivation of balance and right relationship between human
and animal consciousness. Shamanic cultures speak of the soul, or
spirit, of each species -- Bear, Wolf, Eagle, etc., -- who represents
and protects the individual members of that species; and with whom the
shaman can communicate on his/her altered state journeys. People used
to know the language of animals, and vice versa, according to ancient
animistic and shamanic belief systems. Through the practice of finding
and working with a "power animal", or animal ally or guide, shamans
re-establish, in the inner realms, the kind of communication and alliance
that existed in earlier times... and that can be most relevant and helpful
to humans in an age when so many feel dis-spirited and cut off from
their vital instincts.
spirits and symbolic visions play a very important role in alchemy also:
the green lion that devours the sun, the black crow emerging out of
the earth, the pelican nursing its young, the wolf (wild animal energy)
and the dog (tamed animal energy) fighting for dominance, ... are only
some of the alchemical metaphors found amply illustrated and discussed
in alchemical texts. Sometimes the animal images clearly symbolize the
predatory, aggressive, destructive aspects of all nature, including
human nature. At other times, we have animal images that portray possibilities
of transformation for the human, -- as when the serpent, or the lion,
are shown with a crown: the instinctual feelings and instincts have
been raised up and dignified into a creative, non-destructive exression.
In a psychology doctoral dissertation, Jose Stevens showed that individuals
who regularly worked with animal imagery in their meditations and dreams,
scored higher on tests of self-actualization.24
the yoga traditions animal spirits and animal consciousness play some
role, though much less than in shamanism or alchemy. There are symbolic
animals associated with each of the chakras, like the elephant
with the foundational root chakra. And there are animal figures and
composites found as "wrathful deities", or threshold guardians, in the
intermediate bardo realms of Tibetan Buddhism. These figures
appear to function primarily as symbolic meditation images, and are
not treated as real inner animals as in shamanism. Nevertheless, such
images play an important role in transformative processes, as has been
demonstrated in some interesting research by the psychotherapist Eligio
Gallegos.25In this work, significant improvement was observed
in psychotherapy as a result of using guided meditations with animal
images in each of the chakras. The yogic practicioner is learning, through
such symbolic visualizations, to incorporate within him/herself the
strengths and qualities of that animal.
all three of these ancient teachings of transformation, and in their
modern derivative practices of psychotherapy to a limited extent, we
find a recognition of the value of integrating animal consciousness.
Shamanism in particular, holds out to humanity the ancient wisdom and
strength that comes from a mutually supportive symbiosis between the
animal and human kingdoms of life.
transmutation of opposites, from antagonism to complementarity, is a
common theme in these traditions of transformation. This is a kind of
core metaphor, that, along with the other metaphors discussed, exemplifies
a deep cognitive pattern that reflects the structure of the transformative
experience. Such core metaphors can provide a conceptual framework,
or guidepost, to individuals in contemporary society who may be undergoing
such transformative crises, and who are looking to the ancient Earth
Wisdom teachings for insight into the dilemmas and challenges of homo
sapiens in our time.
1. This essay was first published as a chapter in the book Shamanism
- An Expanded View of Reality. ed. Nicholson, Shirley. Wheaton,
Ill.: Theosophical Publishing Co. 1987.
2. Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Bollingen
Series LXXVI. Princeton University Press, 1972; Halifax, Joan. Shaman
- The Wounded Healer. New York: Crossroads Publishing, 1982.
3. Eliade, Mircea. The Forge and the Crucible. Harper & Row,
4. Eliade, Mircea. Yoga - Immortality and Freedom. Princeton
University Press, 1969;
Metzner, Ralph. Maps of Consciousness. Collier/Macmillan, 1971.
5. Walsh, Roger & Vaughan, Frances (eds.). Beyond
Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology. J.P.Tarcher, 1980;
Boorstein, Seymour, ed. Transpersonal Psychotherapy.
Palo Alto: Science & Behavior Books, 1981.
Achterberg, Jeanne. Imagery in Healing: Shamanism and Modern Medicine.
Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1985; Halifax, Joan. Shamanic Voices:
A Survey of Visionary Narratives. E.P. Dutton, 1979.
Edinger, Edward. Anatomy of the Psyche. La Salle, Illinois:
Open Court Publishing, 1985. p. 2.
Metzner, Ralph. op. cit.., pp. 83 ff.
Evans-Wentz, W.Y. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. Oxford University
Press, 1928; Garfield, Patricia. Creative Dreaming. New York:
Ballentine, 1974; LaBerge, Stephen. Lucid Dreaming. Los Angeles:
J.P. Tarcher, 1985.
Taimni, I.K. The Science of Yoga - Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Wheaton, Ill.: Theosophical Publishing House (Quest Books), 1975.
Grof, Stanislav. Beyond the Brain. Birth, Death and Transcendence
in Psychotherapy. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press,
Hamel, Peter Michael. Through Music to the Self. Boulder,
Co.: Shambhala, 1979.
Schultes, R.E. & Hofmann, A. Plants of the Gods. Origins of
Hallucinogenic Use. McGraw-Hill, 1979; Furst, Peter T. Hallucinogens
and Culture. San Francisco: Chandler & Sharp, 1976; Wasson, R. Gordon.
The Wondrous Mushroom. Mycolatry in Mesoamerica. McGraw-Hill,
1980; Dobkin de Rios, Marlene. Hallucinogens: Cross-Cultural Perspectives.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984;
Harner, Michael. "The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft,"
in Harner, M. (ed.) Harner, Michael (ed.) Hallucinogens and Shamanism.
Oxford University Press, 1973.
Strickmann, Michel. "On the Alchemy of T'ao Hung-ching." in Welch, Holmes
& Seidel, Anna (eds.) Facets of Taoism. Yale University Press,
1979; see also my Maps of Consciousness, where, in the chapter
on alchemy, some possible alchemical psychedelics are mentioned.
Taimni, I.K. (Patanjali), op. cit. p. 377.
Aldrich, Michael. "Tantric Cannabis Use in India". Journal of Psychedelic
Drugs. Vol.9 (No.3) Jul.-Sept. 1977; see also the chapter on Tantra
in my Maps of Consciousness.
Grof, Stanislav. op. cit.; also Grinspoon, Lester & Bakalar, James.
Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered. Basic Books, 1979.
Metzner, Ralph. Opening to Inner Light. The Transformation of Human
Nature and Consciousness. Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1986.
Lakoff, George & Johnson, Mark. Metaphors We Live By. University
of Chicago Press, 1980; Smith, M. Brewster. "The Metaphorical Basis
of Selfhood". in Marsell, A., Devos, G. & Hsu, F.L.K. (eds) Culture
and Self. Asian and Western Perspectives. New York : Tavistock Publications,
1985; Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature. A Necessary Unity.
E.P. Dutton, 1979.
Metzner, Ralph. Opening to Inner Light. op. cit., p. 179.
ibid. p. 96.
Metzner, Ralph. Opening to Inner Light. chapter 4, "Purification
by Inner Fire." pp. 59-74.; also, Metzner, Ralph. "On Getting to Know
One's Inner Enemy". Revision
Vol. 8, No. 1, Summer/Fall 1985.
Stevens, Jose. "Power Animals, Animal Imagery and Self Actualization."
Ph.D. Dissertation, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco,
1981. For a brilliant discussion of animal and other imagery in alchemy,
see Edinger, Edward. Anatomy of the Psyche.
Gallegos, Eligio S. "Animal Imagery, the Chakra System and Psychotherapy."
Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Vol. 15, No. 2, 1983.