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Alchemical Studies
Carl Gustav Jung
Translated by R. F. C. Hull
Published by Princeton University Press/NJ in 1983
Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©1992


Jung starts this book with a quote from an ancient adept, "If the wrong man uses the right means, the right means work in the wrong way." Thus Jung starts the reader on a journey to that unique destination, individuation. The outcome of the journey is never certain; the goal is to arrive at one's own center of being and from there to gaze upon the world for the first time. Jung strives to bring metaphysical insights into the light of psychological understanding and explores the subterranean caverns of alchemy to mine it of its jewels of insight into that yet mysterious process of individuation. In simple terms, Jung tries to turn the wrong man into the right man.

He leads us through explorations of the secret of the golden flower, the writings of Paracelsus, the myths of Mecurius, and the lore of the philosophical tree. Till at the end of the book he tells us,

It seemed desirable to discuss in some detail the process which underlie both alchemy and the modern psychology of the unconscious. I am aware, and hope I have made clear to the reader, that merely intellectual understanding is not sufficient. It supplies us only with verbal concepts, but it does not give us their true content, which is to be found in the living experience of the process as applied to ourselves.
And in the closing sentence,
We feel sorry for the [alchemist] and admire the [chemist], but no one asks about the fate of the psyche, which vanished from sight for several hundred years.

Vanished, that is, until Carl Jung focused his research on it and returned it, as a holy grail, to the light of day to heal all those who drank from it.

It is a shame that such beautiful insights should lie hidden in such a ponderous and unapproachable book. The process of individuation is never easy and easier to approach books tend to lead us farther from the goal of self knowledge.

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