Alchemy: The Great Work

Posted by on Feb 17, 2012 in Alchemy

Image: S. Trismosin, Splendor Solis, London 16th Century

Image: S. Trismosin, Splendor Solis, London 16th Century

It begins with Saturn. Saturn holds the energy of the metal lead. In the alchemical processes, whether inner or outer, metal is a metaphor. When something is in our way or holding us back and making us stuck – that’s lead. That’s a saturnine quality. As alchemists, our work is to transform this metaphorical lead into gold.

First we have to recognize our relationship to Saturn. Astrology is a great tool to help with that. Keep in mind that before there was psychology, according to Carl Jung, mankind used the stars to project their personalities out in front of them. Modern men and women can still function this way, as it is an effective tool for how we learn about ourselves – only we tend to project on each other. The language of our psyche is made out of symbols and astrology is a language made of symbols. So if it can work in a therapist’s office, it can work as it always has, out in nature and under the sky.

Back to Saturn and the beginning of an alchemical process.

Saturn rules over the sign of Capricorn. In The Inner Sky, astrologer Steven Forrest describes planets as “the psychological function” or grammatically speaking, the “what” while signs represent the “identity” or the “why” and “how” the mind will function in this mode. For me to construct a short paragraph using this grammar as a way of explaining the beginning of a “great work” in alchemy it would go like this:

  • When I find myself in a stuck place it is time to stop charging forward and take a good look around me. What tools do I see? What is implied by their presence for what I am meant to do? My work at this point is to use discipline, patience and integrity in a grounded way to create – here’s some alchemical terms – the container, vessel or crucible – in this phase of my work.


The challenge at this point is not to get lost in despair or to work harder than necessary. The container must be held with the right amount of pressure without exhausting resources before this phase ends. What does this look like in more concrete terms? What follows is an example from my experience.

As a younger man living in New York City trying to make a career in the theatre, it was a necessity to take what is known in the biz as survival jobs. Modern American culture expects most artists to suffer for the honor of their craft by doing whatever it takes to pay the bills while enjoying the limited freedom to pursue art. So I was working with an actress on the development of a show and also needed to earn some kind of money. Saturn arrived when my money was low and she refused to offer any more compensation that I was receiving. I grounded myself (Capricorn) and did what I had to do (Saturn) I went out and got another job offer. This particular job just happened to be for another actor. This created a certain amount of jealousy and I was asked to wait a week before taking the new job in order to make room for the possibility that the actress could find me more money. My new job would not wait a week. What was I going to do about this?

Image: Saturn Glyph

Symbol or glyph for Saturn

Now I am between a rock and a hard place. (Saturn, again) I needed more money and I didn’t want to lose sight of my goal which was to continue developing the show with this very talented actress. At that time I didn’t have the inner strength to hold all of this so I reached out for help. I called friends. Their feedback was, “She doesn’t need a week to find you more money, she needs a week to replace you!” That hit me like a ton of bricks. At the end of the day, instead of getting lost in emotions, I was to “act as if I could have house AND job.”

The storm blew over. I was not replaced and I got to keep both the extra job that paid my bills and the one that had the artistic merit which attracted my soul. The next phase was invited to come in – the subject of another post.

The actions I just described probably happened in just two days. Saturn had probably been there for months before I stopped to take a look around. A great work or Opus Magnum can take years to work through the saturnine phase. This example was the first short one I could think of as an example that could model what I’m hoping to convey. In my alchemical healing work, with astrology as a tool, it is my intention to support others through the micro and the macro journeys of “inner work” as it will often be called on this site.

I welcome your comments and your questions about alchemy, astrology and anything else I have some knowledge about. If this article inspires you to contact me for an astrological reading or for support with an alchemical process of your own – email me at




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