Alchemy of Self: Putrefaction

While the beginning of this stage may feel like Caput Corvi and the shame ridden days of calcination all over again, our wisened mind can recognize these times as being full of life in death. We’re less than halfway through our transmutation of self— we must expect there to still be hindering thoughts and behaviours bubbling to the surface as we process who we are and who we were meant to be.

During putrefaction, we rot. Like the burning fire of calcination, we use heat but we merely warm ourselves so that what is perishable may mold with glorious colours. Though we experience depression, we also experience brilliant creativity which harkens the peacock. The warmth we feel which heals and destroys, we know that it comes from the strength of all and one, the reflective white and the rainbow of colour within its make. Believe it or not, we are still within the realm of the swan and dove who fly above a steaming dark watered sea of our former corpses. The peacock is our indicator that we have left Caput Corvi and are making progress.

Since we are preparing now for the yellow phase of dedication and true sacrifice, the journey is turbulent but we have learnt to tap into our inner strength. By the time we’ve reached putrefaction, we have discovered enough true value within ourselves to better weather the painful emotions and traumas that attempt to drag us back to our former self. Our reminders come more naturally, our affirmations fluently, and we can look back at the troubles we have left behind and know we’re capable of relinquishing the rest.

We can glimpse sight of what we’re working toward, the goal we don’t need to attain. I write little of the philosopher’s stone for good reason. It is easy to chase after fools gold, the material gains that mean so little, but this is not the elixir of life that alchemists seek. It is what some call true enlightenment, transcendence. The philosopher’s stone is our perfect self but almost no one will achieve it. Why do we go through this arduous process anyway? The value of the ‘stone’ is the process. Every phase is a gift in of itself and the further along the cycle of cycles we get before we die, the more peaceful that death will be. 

This is why putrefaction is important. There are no shortcuts. Putrefaction shows us we cannot avoid facing our deepest fears, that we can’t expect to allow our past self to continue haunting us in subtle ways. Truths are being revealed to us amongst the decay, the truth that the crow trusted so deeply in that it would sever its own head gladly. We see now what we couldn’t then, back when we still didn’t understand what the crow of Caput Corvi stood for. 

Think of mushrooms and their purpose. They weave a web of mycelium which connects all lives in its environment, and then feed and fruit upon the death in its home to transmute its energy to return it back to the earth. This is what mysticism is based on, the wonder and power of nature. Human beings looked out and saw hidden secrets.

Our secrets are being unearthed, fungi bursting with brilliant colours which detail now so clearly which we wished to be blind to. Go back to your journals, your early writing on your saddest, most despairing days. Can you see things that you couldn’t then? Can you use this awareness on yourself as you are now? You might notice you’ve begun to build a voice inside you that you can ask for advice and always receive an answer you can trust, even if it’s one you don’t understand or want to hear. This voice has always been there but muffled, throughout our work you may notice it more than ever.

Ask yourself a question, something easy yet difficult. Ask what you’re so afraid of that you would attempt to learn alchemy. Ask what you want, right now and for your future. Ask what you want to be doing right now. Notice any mold that grows around the pureness, the ‘I don’t know’ that tries to cover up the screaming truth. Watch the scum putrefy. 

We putrefy. We are not scum, and yet we do not feel whole because we have not allowed ourselves to feel decay in the way it was meant to be. We have felt ourselves become stagnant in the metaphors humans assign and we have felt sickness eat at ourselves from the inside out, but we have not understood what it means. So we must, as an entire being, putrefy and become intimate with the natural process. 

Consider warmth. Chinese alchemists tracked cosmological charts to determine fire phases, moments in cycles of time where the practitioner would use heat. Nearly all schools of alchemy follow cycles as they all find power in nature, the rise and fall, the melting and freezing of water, the ebb and flow. When we consider warmth, we should look through the eyes of ancient alchemists warming their hands at a fire which also steadily warms a pot of material which slowly becomes moist and rank. A strong stench emanates from the power which offers so much comfort. As the noxious fumes fade, something remains untouched among the decaying remnants of itself.

As we feel our sadness and shame, do we feel that strong core which is being revealed to us? Can we bear the putrid smell of success? We have only just begun.

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