Previously I had provided a basic Introduction to Alchemy1 and some background information on The Emerald Tablet2. Next I will discuss the phases and operations comprising the alchemical transformation process.
There are three phases within the transformation process of alchemy. The three phases are color coded as the black phase (Nigredo), white phase (Albedo), and red (Rubedo) phase. These three phases correspond to three colors of the four base metals as they undergo alchemical transformation:
“If the four base metals (lead, tin, iron, and copper) are melted and fused into a new alloy, the resulting surface color is black. If this black alloy is heated with the noble metal silver and then heated in mercury, it turns white. If all has gone well, the final iridescent red-violet color appears in the metal, which indicates a small amount of genuine gold was formed3.”
Within the three phases of alchemy (Black Phase, White Phase, and Red Phase), there are seven operations. These seven operations within the three phases hold true on all levels of alchemical transformation – the philosophical, theoretical, and practical and across all types of transformation. The three phases and seven operations are required for alchemical transformation whether it is in reference to minerals, plants, metals, or even spiritual and psychological alchemy. Furthermore, upon studying the philosophy of alchemy, I have found these seven steps to hold true for all transformation in general.
This first series of articles will serve to introduce you to the three phases and seven operations of transformation and will be limited to philosophical and practical laboratory transformation. Also, the introductory article will discuss the first two operations within the first phase of alchemy.
The relationship between the three phases are shown within the following diagram:
The first phase, referred to as the Black Phase consists of two operations – Calcination and Dissolution.
Of the three phases, the black phase is the longest and most difficult. Within the black phase, the alchemist faces the dead part of the substance to be transformed.
“In the lab, mortification results in a powder or ashes in which the characteristics of the former substance can no longer be recognized.4”
Within the Black Phase of alchemy there are two operations that involve the application of the Elements of Fire and Water. The two operations involves the removal of dross from the item to be transformed through the application of Fire and Water to the item under transformation. Dross is an alchemical term that refers to the scum of solid impurities that float on top of molten metal. It is essentially the waste and contaminants which, if not removed during this early phase, will contaminate, and therefore hinder and sabotage the alchemical process. Once complete, the pure essences of the matter undergoing transformation are separated out and saved for the next phases (White Phase and Red Phase) where they will undergo additional transformational processes.
As is common with alchemical work each phase is represented by a unique symbol. These symbols are used within alchemical drawings to communicate alchemical processes in a covert manner to other alchemists. The symbol for the Black Phase is the black crow.
The first phase of alchemy is the Black Phase. The Black Phase is represented by the symbol of the Black Crow and the element of Fire.
Phase 1: Black Phase – Operation 1: Calcination
The first operation in alchemy is a fire operation and literally translates to “reduced to bone by burning.5” As a result of the calcination operation, the matter under transformation is no longer affected by common fire. This first alchemical operation of Calcination occurs within the Black Phase of alchemy.
As with the phases, the operations of alchemy have their own symbology:
“The cipher the alchemists assigned to the process of calcination was the ram horns of the astrological sign for Aries. Aries is the most fiery of all the signs, and the Great Work of alchemy begins in the spring when the sun is in the house of Aries. Skulls and skeletons are also used as symbols in the drawings of calcination and represent both pure white calcium oxide and the hidden structure of materials revealed by fire. Other images of calcination include funeral pyres, scenes of hell, torture by fire, crucifixion, birds rising from flames, and frightening confrontations with dragons or demons.6”
Others symbols associated with calcination include the salamander and dragon. The Calcination process serves to drive off water and other volatile compounds and results in a decomposition of the material. As discussed earlier, this is the part of the Black Phase associated with death, calcination is basically purification of the matter undergoing transformation by fire.
Within alchemy, calcination refers to any process of heating and breaking up a solid to drive off water. The heat is applied via an open flame until the solid turns to ashes. The element associated with Calcination is Fire. The following is an updated diagram to include Calcination which falls within the Black Phase.
The first phase of alchemy is the Black Phase. The Black Phase consists of two operations, the first of which is Calcination. The Black Phase of alchemy is represented by the black crow. The most common symbols associated with Calcination are the ram horns of Aries, skulls, skeletons, salamanders, dragons, among other fiery signs. The Element associated with the first operation of Calcination is Fire.
Phase 1: Black Phase – Operation 2: Dissolution
The second operation which occurs within the Black Phase is Dissolution:
“Dissolution is the transformation of a substance by immersing it in water or other liquid. In the lab, it is the liquefaction of a solid or the absorption of a solid into a liquid. It usually involved dissolving the ashes from calcination in water or liquid chemicals. The water in which the ashes were dissolved took on magical properties, and the term elixir from the Arabic Al-iksir.7”
Within the first alchemical operation of Calcination, the alchemist burned the matter to be transformed until the matter transformed into ashes. Within the burning process water and other compounds were driven off and only water remains. With Dissolution, the alchemist takes the ashes and submerges them in liquid.
As with Calcination, the operation of Dissolution possesses its own associated symbology:
“The astrological sign associated with the dissolution process was the Water sign of Cancer, which the Egyptians called the sign of the Scarab. Symbols of dissolution include lakes, floods, underground streams, quicksand, reflecting pools, tears, melting, menstruation, washing in tubs, fish swimming on the surface of water, and other allusions to the Water Element. Glass vessels, clay pots, cauldrons, and other womblike vessels of transformation also refer to this process.
Drawings of women riding great fish, taming wild animals or dragons, or naked women walking quietly in the forest are images of dissolution that emphasize the deep connection between nature and the darker feminine side of our being.8“
The following diagram includes the operation of Dissolution, occurring within the Black Phase:
The operation of Dissolution involves taking the result of the first operation, Calcination and subjecting it to submergence in liquid. This liquid is water or some other liquified chemical compound. Dissolution is associated with the element of Water and as such, is associated with water symbology to include the astrological Water sign of Cancer, lakes, floods, and other symbols associated with Water.
By the conclusion of the first two operations of alchemy, Calcination and Dissolution contained within the first, Black Phase of Alchemy, the dross, or impurities will be removed from the matter undergoing transformation. Any contaminants will have been removed, the the basic essence of the matter will be revealed.
The following is a summary of what you have learned within this article:
-Alchemy is comprised of three phases.
-The three phases of alchemy are the Black Phase, the White Phase, and the Red phase.
-The Black Phase is represented by the Fire Element and the Black Crow Symbol.
-Alchemy consists of seven operations.
-The first two operations comprise the Black Phase of alchemy.
-The first two operations which comprise the Black Phase are the operations of Calcination and Distillation.
-The first operation, Calcination is represented by the Fire Element and is often symbolized by the zodiac sign of Aries.
-The operation of Calcination burns contaminants from the matter under transformation.
-The second operation, Dissolution is represented by the Water Element and is often symbolized by the zodiac sign of Cancer.
-The operation of Dissolution is characterized by the matter under transformation undergoing submersion in water or some other liquified chemical compound.
By the conclusion of the Black Phase of alchemy, the first two operations of Calcination and Dissolution will have burned and washed away contaminants leaving the essence of the matter undergoing transformation.
1. Sedivy, J.R. Introduction to Alchemy: http://jrsedivy.com/introduction-to-alchemy/
2. Sedivy, J.R. The Emerald Tablet: http://jrsedivy.com/the-emerald-tablet/
3. Hauck, Dennis William. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy (p. 149).
4. Hauck, Dennis William. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy (pp. 150 – 151).
5. Hauck, Dennis William. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy (p. 151).
7. Hauck, Dennis William, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy (p. 155).
8. Hauck, Dennis William, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy (pp. 155 – 156).