Friday, January 27, 2017

Urns & Outs: Life is Alchemy


As published in The Dead Beat, Mid-Winter, 2017


Beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries there was a phenomenon that pervaded Europe – the understanding that, through applied science, any base metal could be turned to pure gold via the “Philosopher’s Stone.” Along this same idea was that with the right combination of materials one could create the elixir of life – the fountain of youth that would allow the person who drinks it to live and never die. Alchemy, it was called, and was practiced by any number of alchemists in Europe, Asia, and Egypt.
Of course the fact of turning any material into something better was a highly contested practice and was often compared to witchcraft. Yet philosophically many religions taught just that very basic belief: the soul is a sort of alchemy in which, through teaching and wisdom, could become something better than it was; thus elevating the spirit toward godliness and salvation.
Renowned psychologist Carl Jung, the originator of personality typology that many therapists use even in the present, believed that life was alchemical. Jung had a recurring dream that his house contained a separate wing, one that he had not seen, and to which he could find no access. Finally gaining entry to the part of the house that had been concealed, he discovered a secret library with countless volumes, each with symbols emblazoned on their covers and containing alchemical texts and diagrams. Upon waking, he began studying alchemy and eventually came to the conclusion that alchemy didn’t aim to make precious materials in a physical sense, but that its aims were more of a psychological parable – which he called opus magnum. “The opus magnum,” he wrote, “had two aims: the rescue of the human soul and the salvation of the cosmos.” This was achieved through an alchemical process of the psyche toward individuation, or the evolution of the maturity of the personality.
The truth is that because we are a living and evolving species, then all things are an alchemical reaction that takes us onward and upward toward the betterment of existence. At least, that’s our hope.
Death is likewise alchemy: a transition in which the body goes from innate moving parts to inanimate matter – and more importantly, the soul, as our hope goes, becomes something better than it was. As funeral practitioners we aide the body toward purification, whether by fluid or by fire; scientific processes that promote the health of the living. Additionally, we know the psychological advancement that comes with the grieving process, the healing that we are able to promote through proper services and memorialization.
We face alchemy every day – whether it is in something we do to better society or ourselves. We move forward in our careers and in our dealings with others, constantly striving to be better than we were before. We make dreaded or hopeful changes. We educate, encourage, always moving onward. Upward.
Life is alchemy. When we do our part to promote and encourage the betterment of society and mankind, we are indeed rescuing the human soul. We are aiding in the salvation of the cosmos. We are becoming better human beings.
That’s my perspective…