Let us now pay attention to the classical phases of alchemical transformation, which, not surprisingly, are most recognized as being sevenfold (there are also descriptions of twelve phases), and bear Latin names.
1. Calcinatio (calcification, dry heating), sometimes also called “baptism with fire”.
If we try to investigate the veiled laboratory occurrence of the process, it is described as a controlled incineration of matter with a permanent fire. However, this cauterization does not stop after the material has become common gray-black ash, but continues until this ash has become a handful of fine white powder.
From a psychological point of view, the first stage of purification of a human being is described here, where the ego allows the ‘trial by fire’ of its inflaming egocentric will, so that what develops is a personality that is ready to serve the quiet spiritual principle within himself or herself. This initial phase of liberation from our leaden egocentrism becomes possible with the opening to the spiritual understanding that the sacrifice of the ego-dominated will is the key essential to the liberation of the consciousness, and that is how the process of its transformation begins. When the ego understands through its mental abilities something of this process, it tries to imitate it, to replace its harsh will with more cultivated ideas for serving others, but only in order to maintain the image of itself in a more favorable light. That is precisely why, in the description of calcification, it is explicitly emphasized that the cauterization does not stop after the incineration, but only after the scorching of the ashes, when only a handful of white powder remains, as we mentioned. Paracelsus pays special attention to the fact that without the complete realization of this first phase of alchemical transformation, the rest can not be undergone.
2. Sublimatio (sublimation), sometimes also called “baptism with air”.
Here, in the appropriate laboratory vessel (the soul), by doing something like “reverse” precipitation, the fine material is being separated from the coarse matter. That is why alchemists often called this phase separation (Separatio). From the ashes of the will that has been sacrificed – the purified element of the “mother of matter” – rises the pure, primaeval soul, which is the material for the fulfillment of the soul-spirit man. During this phase, all feelings, thoughts and impulses of the human actions are being guided by inner soul vibrations, which, through the criteria of sublimation, are recognized and distinguished from anything else, and accordingly can form a clear image.
3. Solutio (dissolution), sometimes also called “baptism with water“.
It is described as a very slow and perfectly silent dissolution of the solid matter in the laboratory vessel. In some alchemical works this process is called “the drowning of the old King“, meaning the egocentric self. It is logical that the change in physical qualities also represents a corresponding psychic process – during the dissolution the different material particles lose their own boundaries, and become a homogeneous liquid. In the mystical language that would mean the ingenious release of the individual soul, and its flowing into the “ocean” of the World Soul.
4. Putrefactio (decomposition).
For this phase, sometimes compared to fermentation, a very mild fire is used which decomposes each component of the mixture to the ultimate level. That is how the process of creation can begin, from the prime matter. Since now it is animated by the World Soul, a new form of life is created, that has a much higher and finer organization than the forms and biological life that we know.
Alchemical language sometimes uses the word Mortificatio (mortifying). Traditionally this phase lasts 40 days, and is performed “under a cover” – without interference or monitoring of the process. This mortifying, called “endura” by the Bogomils and Cathars, is the act of ultimate “goodbye” to the world of the old, in which all the remnants of the skillful imitations of the ego have already been totally unmasked and renounced.
5. Distillatio (distillation).
In Alchemy this phase is often described as creating volatility of the material. The essential and intangible rises up in a new gaseous state, a new level of matter. It is said that in order to pour the distillate back into the vessel, the steam is being “fixed” by cooling down. Thus, although it returns back to a liquid form, it brings with it what “has been received from above“. The process enriches the substance with new information received from what is called Spirit. The microstructure of the elements is lightened and thus a possibility is created for a subsequent gradual perfection, for a “transmutation“. The process is described as being conducted in a closed system, and is often ritualized with a repetition of 33 times.
Psychologically, this phase shows the growth within a human being of what has so far only been abstractly called “essence”. We are talking about a new consciousness here, which naturally turns “what has been received from above” into action.
Distillation is an extremely important phase during the unfolding of the spiritual path. For the alchemist, it holds a risk that he may experience a “splitting” of his personality, while attempting to spiritually uplift a part of himself, without using the necessary foundation for it. Thus, enchanted by his new intuition and inspiration, he becomes addicted to this “volatility”, and forgets about the grounding in himself. Thus, he does not integrate everything within himself during the process of self-knowledge, and ignores what is “too heavy” (evaporates without “fixing”).
The full accomplishment of this “distillation” requires inner maturity – a complete realization of the previous four phases. The result of this is a clear presence of mind, applied to a new way of living. It is reported that Bogomils and Cathars had achieved this process, so in France they were called “parfaits” (=complete, perfect).
6. Coagulatio (coagulation, condensation).
This is the process of new creation. It is described as a condensation, the opposite of distillation, during which the return of the volatile substance to material state leads to a reconfiguration of matter into a completely new form.
From the point of view of the spiritual work, this is telling us that the spiritual idea begins to constantly flow into a purified and renewed material form. A new creature is born, an image of the original divine archetype (which makes it ancient, even timeless). As it is described by some: the new consciousness creates its own new body of light. The material for it was called by the alchemists “Heavenly dew” or pure, eternal ethers.