Fermentation in Alchemy

Fermentation in Alchemy

As internal alchemists work through the stages of personal transformation, we pass through transformation by fire (calcination) and cleansing with water (dissolution). Then, separation and conjunction filter out parts of our psychology that aren’t helpful. The fourth operation, conjunction recombines the best elements of ourselves that have made it this far.

Next, we arrive at the processes of purification and fermentation. Most commonly, we think of fermentation in the use of yeast to turn sugar into alcohol. In chemical terms, putrefaction allows matter to rot and decompose. Think of crushing grapes, separating the juice, and allowing the matter to decay. Unlike calcination, where the burned remains were seen as waste, in putrefaction, the darkness is seen as potential, teeming with life that will burst forth from the pregnant darkness. Fermentation is an awakening of this material, symbolically accompanied by heat and low fires, like a crane or stork sitting on its eggs before they hatch.

Personal fermentation introduces new life into matter, birthing the inner presence from the embryo of our higher self, created in earlier processes. Personal fermentation can be achieved using deep introspection and meditations that pursue union with the earth, sun, moon, planets, and stars. The alchemist can conduct an intense review of interpersonal experiences, capturing what is useful and discarding the rest.  At the darkest point of putrefaction, a burst of colors emerge as the final impurities are cleansed and fermentation begins. Western alchemists symbolized this with images of a peacock’s tail. The body will be full of energy, possibly felt as tingling, seen as light, and/or heard as thunder cracking,

The Alchemist’s Tao Te Ching:
Transforming Your Lead Into Gold

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