The stages of the ALCHEMICAL process

by Johnes Ruta

fire operation -- Calcinatio
water operation -- Solutio
earth operation -- Coagulatio
air operation -- Sublimatio
the quintessence -- Coniunctio


Greek: Malagma = poultice , malkos = soft ; Latin: malagma.
a. An alloy of mercury with another metal through fusion.
b. The extraction of precious metals from their ores by treatment with mercury.


Latin: calx = Lime.
To intensely heat (as with inorganic materials) to a high temperature, but without fusion, in order to drive off volatile matter, or to effect changes (as oxidation or pulverization.) What remains is a fine dry powder.

The heating of limestone Ca CO3, or slaked lime Ca(OH)2 to produce quicklime CaO, calx vita. -- When water is added, quicklime has the property of generating heat.

The fire of calcination is a purging whitening fire. For example, cremation produces calx; the fire acts upon the black stuff of the nigredo or mortificatio, and turns it white. This process is connected with the symbolism of Purgatory, the eternal punitive fire. -- The notion that the wicked are punished in the afterlife was widespread in antiquity: Ixion was punished for trying to seduce Hera by being bound to a perpetual wheel of fire. The goddesses called the Erinyes, Erinues , (the Furies or Eumenides) burnt the damned with their torches. The Pyriphlegethon is an igneous river surrounding Tartarus. Lucian in his True Histories describes the island of the impious as an immense brazier. [Edinger]

In the Sibyline Oracles, Book III, "And then shall a great river of flaming fire will flow down from heaven, and consume all places."

In the book of Daniel (3:12-30), Nebuchadnezzar orders everyone to prostrate themselves to the golden image of himself. All do this, but the Jews, Shadrack, Meschack, and Abednego --who are thrown alive into the fiery furnace. They remain unharmed in the flames, and a fourth unknown man is seen among them, and the form of the fourth man is like unto the Son of God.

In Revelations (20:13-15), "And the sea gave up her dead, Death & Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done, and if anyone’s name was not in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the Lake of Fire."


Latin: coagulum =to curdle; from cogere = to drive together.
a. The process which turns something into earth : Cooling which turns a liquid into a solid.
b. A solid that has been dissolved into a solvent reappears when that solvent is evaporated;  or a chemical reaction may produce a new compound that is solid.
c. "earth" is one of the synonyms for the coagulatio -- it is heavy and permanent, of fixed position and shape.
d. In Roland: A Lexicon of Alchemy, the 3 agents of Coagulatio are:
          1.  Magnesia
          2.  Lead
          3.  Sulphur
e. In medieval psychological thought, for a psychic content to become "earth" means it has  been concretized in a particular localized form -- that is, it has been attached to an ego.   The coagulatio has often been equated with Creation.
f. Myths tell us that coagulatio is promoted by action -- diving, churning, whirling motion.

The Turba Philosophorum states an alchemical recipe for coagulation: "Take quicksilver, coagulate in the body of Magnesia, in Kuhul (lead), or in Sulphur which does not burn… If mercury is amalgamated with another metal, the amalgam solidifies -- Similarly, mercury combines with sulphur to form a solid, mercury sulfide." [Edinger]


Latin: jungere = to join; jugum = to yoke together; from the Greek: Zygon, zygon; and the Sanskrit: juga.

The Coniunctio is the culmination of the alchemist’s opus, with both extroverted and introverted aspects. It is both the chemical and physical combination in which two substances come together to form a third substance with different properties, such as the fusion of molten metals, and the amalgams by the union of mercury with other metals.  This is the common alchemical image of SOL & LUNA entering the mercurial fountain, representing the dissolving of gold and silver in mercury. Another chemical combination used by the alchemists is the union of mercury and sulphur to form red mercuric oxide,  (Hg + S à HgS.) [Edinger]

In the two phases of the Lesser and Greater Coniunctio, the Lesser is the union or fusion of substances not yet thoroughly separated or discriminated. It is always followed by death or mortificiato. The product is a contaminated mixture that must be subjected to further procedures. In alchemical symbolism, the product is pictured as killed, maimed, or fragmented.

In the Greater Coniunctio -- the Opus -- the goal is the creation of the miraculous "Philo- sopher’s Stone," produced by the final union of the purified opposites, which mitigates and rectifies all "one-sidedness." The Stone has the power to give life, to purify all corrupt, to soften the hard, and to harden the soft. [Edinger]



Latin: pregnans = to impregnate.

To interpenetrate or saturate thoroughly in order to produce a chemical or metallurgical crystalization or compound.

In early metallurgy, streams, galleries of mines, and caves are identified with the vagina of the Earth-Mother : everything that lies in the belly of the earth is alive and in a state of gestation. The ores extracted from mines are embryonic; they grow slowly as if in obedience to some temporal rhythm other than that of vegetable and animal organisms, they "grow ripe" in their telluric darkness.

The mining of metals from the bowels of the earth is an operation executed before its time. With these metals the metallurgist was succeeding the work of Nature, which in time would have ripened these metals to "perfection." [Eliade, p. 42]


Latin: praecipit = to throw violently; praeceps = to fall or come suddenly into some condition.
a. To cause to separate from solution or suspension.
b. To cause vapor to condense and fall or deposit.
c. To fall or cascade as rain or snow, as is the aspect of the fertilization of the earth by the  Ti’amat Dragon of the Rain as described in the Enuma Elish, the Mesopotamian  creation epic.


Sanskrit: panati = he cleanses; Latin: purus, akin to Old High German: fowen = to sift.

a. To clear from material defilement, imperfection, or extraneous matter.
b. In The Phaedo, Plato states, "Purification consists in separating the soul as much as possible from the body, and accustoming it to withdraw from all contact with the body,  and to concentrate itself by itself, and have its own dwelling, free from the shackles of  the body."
[Plato, Phaedo 67c-68b]


Latin: verber = a rod, hence to lash.
a. To reflect < ~ heat or light >
b. To become driven back.
c. To subject to the action of a reverberatory furnace (i.e. a kiln or furnace in which heat is radiated from the roof.



Latin: solutio; solvere = to loosen, to solve.
a. To turn a solid into a liquid.
b. An act or process by which a solid, liquid, or gaseous substance is homogeneously mixed       with a liquid, or sometimes a gas or solid.
c. The homogeneous mixture formed by this process : especially a single-phase liquid system. (From 1904, a solvate is an aggregate that consists of a solute ion or molecule  with one or more solvent molecules; also a substance (such as a hydrate) containing  such ions.)
d. In the solutio process, the solid seems to disappear into the solution as if it had been  swallowed up.
e. Solutio is the return to differentiated matter to its undifferentiated state --its materia prima.
f. Mercury has the capacity to dissolve or amalgamate with gold and silver. The process ancient process for extracting gold from crude ore is to pulverize and treat the ore with  mercury which dissolves the gold; the mercury is then separated from the gold by distilling it with heat.

In spiritual alchemy, SOL & LUNA represent the personality’s masculine and feminine principles "concretely" manifested in the personality at the beginning of the process. SOL = the dominant conscious attitude, and LUNA = the anima of its current state of development -- these two are dissolved by "friendly water," which is mercury, and equated in the womb, corresponding with the materia prima. In this incest symbolism of SOL & LUNA, Love and Lust are the agents of Solutio.


Latin: sublimis = to elevate over a threshold.
To cause to pass off from the solid to the vapor state by heating, and again to condense into solid form.
a. A low substance is translated into a higher substance by an ascending movement: Earth  is transformed into Air; a fixed body is volitatized; that which is inferus into that which is superus. The sublimate flies up from earth, and is transported to heaven. The  alchemist’s vessel was equated with the Macrocosm, its lower retort representing the  earth, its upper retort heaven.
b. The "expulsion of the quicksilver" is done by sublimatio, which releases the spirit hidden in matter. Sublimatio can also mean "hammering" or "grinding" down to rhinisima ("filings") to bring about a complete attenuation of the material : very fine powder approaches a gas in its consistency. The symbolism of grinding contains the moral categories of good and bad: i.e. "fine" and "coarse."

c. In psychological terms, Carl Jung criticizes Sigmund Freud’s theory of sublimation thus:  "Sublimation is not a voluntary and the forcible channeling of instinct into a spurious field of  application [as Freud states], but an alchemical transformation for which fire and the black materia prima  are needed. Sublimatio is a great mystery. Freud has appropriated this concept and usurped it for the sphere of the will, and the bourgeois, rationalistic theos." [C.G. Jung, Letters, I:171]

d. Comment:  Item c. brings to this curator’s (J.R.) mind many questions of political perspective,  and while Jung is quoted here, I steadfastly resist Jung's narrow political, non-dialectical, non-Keynesian perspective, clearly implying
that anyone should easily be at liberty to avoid the repressive  economic and social forces pressed upon the individual personality, the forces of organized religion against free mystical thought, and especially the organized categorical methods of "formal education" pressed against independent intellectual
inquiry and determination.

 is a critical universal function which works on every level of biologic and physical "reality" -- the biophysical and astrophysical, the
instinctual, the subconsious, the "Unconscious", the historical, the
developmental, and economic and social, the expansive, the implosive,
and the transformative.

: For a further discussion and review  of the problem of "sublimation," I strongly recommend a reading of Norman O. Brown’s  seminal work Life Against Death, [Vintage Press, 1959], especially the chapters: "The Ambiguities of Sublimation," and "The Excremental Vision." I also recommend, regarding this controversy, Georg Groddeck’s (a correspondent of Freud), The Book of the IT, (Psychoanalytischer Verlag; Vienna; 1923), Herbert Marcuse’s Eros  and Civilization, (Beacon Press, 1955); Fredrich Engels' The Origin of the Family
(1846), and reference to my own "Psychles: The Nagging Question of Cyclic Time vs. Apocalyptic Time : A Table," under the page  titled Origins of the Specious.


Latin: volate = to fly.
a. To cause to pass off into a vapor.
b. Readily vaporizable at relatively low temperature.
c. Also, tending to erupt violently.
d. In psychological terms, characterized as subject to unexpected or rapid change; also, lighthearted, lively; explosive; unable to hold the attention fixed because of an inherent lightness or fickleness of disposition.

Written & compiled by Johnes Ruta,

The Alchemy Website & Virtual Library (Adam McLean)

An Alchemical Dictionary (at Alchemy

A Chemistry Dictionary (at Environmental

A Dictionary of Metallurgy (at


Titus Burckhardt, Alchemy : Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul; (Walter Verlag    Olten und Freiburg; Breisgau; 1960)

Edward F. Edinger, Anatomy of the Psyche : Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy;     (Open Court Publishing Co., La Salle, IL; 1985)

Micea Eliade, The Forge and the Crucible; (Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.; New    York; 1956)

Johannes Fabricius, Alchemy : The Medieval Alchemists and their Royal Art;    (Rosenkilde  & Bagger; Copenhagen; 1976)

Merriam Webster’s Collegiate DICTIONARY; Tenth Edition (Springfield, MA; 1995)

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