Interview with Jane Cicchetti, RS Hom(NA), CCH, IHC
by Peter Wright for Simillimum Magazine
How did you get interested in Alchemy?
The classical homeopath finds many of his/her most important symptoms from the mental/emotional sphere. Hahnemann spoke of the importance of mental symptoms even though psychology had not yet been developed as science when he wrote the Organon. This meant to me that we must study the mind, but I didn’t find that getting into a lot of psychological thought helped - it only confused the issue. What I really wanted to understand was the psyche itself and especially what happens to it in the healing process. It was through looking for a way to understand the human mental state and how it relates to homeopathy that I became involved with Jungian analysis. It seems to me that the Jungian school of therapy understands the psyche as an organism. As a matter of fact, one important book that relates Jung’s work with alchemy is called “Anatomy of the Psyche”. It’s written by Edward Edinger and I highly recommend it.
Jung felt that much of what the Alchemists were talking about was actually the inner workings of the psyche as they focused intently into, what was at that time an unknown area- the nature of substance. He felt that the Alchemists experienced the process of their own minds projected onto the matter they were working with and that their writings are a pattern of the process of individuation. In other words, the Alchemists wrote about the alpha and omega of the healing process- from the very beginning- the prima materia to the end- the attainment of the philosophers stone.
Much of what is written about alchemy is very confusing, and contradictory, why do you think that is?
It’s very easy to get confused reading alchemical texts. I used to think it was because of the language and that they wanted to keep a lot of the work secret. I still agree with that to a certain extent but I now believe that a lot of the confusion comes from the fact that each alchemist wrote from his or her own experience of the process and that alchemy is at heart a very individual experience. It changes depending upon who the alchemist is and what his/her goal is. That is why you will see some texts that describe three processes others that describe seven , etc. Also, the processes are highly symbolic, and often relate to other early Christian symbols. There are, however, some general perspectives on alchemy. One can study alchemy through one or more of these perspectives and focus on writings that pertain primarily to those. Some of the way that Alchemy can be seen are as follows.
An early form of chemistry- an attempt to transform base metal into gold. This is the more materialist interpretation.
As a psychic process- in this case the “gold” being the philosophers stone, the alchemist is transformed by his projection onto the process. This is an internal/psychological approach ; the approach that Jung took.
Creation of transformational substances- The transformation of herbs, minerals and animal substances into medicinal substances that are able to transform and heal the alchemist and others around him/her. Interestingly the alchemists felt that plant alchemy could be done quite easily by the beginning alchemist but animal alchemy was very complicated and sometimes dangerous.
As I see it, homeopathy relates to the second and third perspectives. We already are alchemists in that we take part in personal transformation through provings and observation and use transformed (potentized) herbs, minerals and animal substances. Study of alchemy per se helps us to be better at what we already do and to understand it more fully.
What about the relationship between Alchemical texts and the Organon?
We find a lot of similarity between the alchemical texts and the Organon. There is instruction to keep a free and open mind. Another text advises that “one must keep the eyes of the mind and the soul well open, observing and contemplating by means of that inner light which God has lit in nature and in our hearts from the beginning.” Here we have a strong relationship to paragraph 6 in the Organon, the unprejudiced observer.
The alchemical texts speak of the intimate relationship between the alchemist and the substance through similarity, “for things are perfected by their like”. (Liber Platonis Quartorum) We homeopaths at least partially understand this connection of man to matter through provings, especially through self provings. Hahnemann was quite clear about the value of self provings for the practitioner in paragraph 141 of the Organon. He says that through self provings the homeopath will know the truth of the medicine, know himself, develop the skill of observation and improve his health. This is very similar to the way the Alchemists viewed the practitoner/substance relationship.
The Alchemist puts the substance into a vessel to create its transformation. Interestingly, this vessel is sometimes called the occiput and is shown in alchemical drawings as a skull. This could also be interpreted as transformation through the intellect of the practitioner. as is done in provings.
We refine matter in the creation of the homeopathic remedy and that refined, (diluted and succussed) matter creates transformation of the substance and the individual who is treated with it. An early Hermetic text actually describes the dilution and succussion process in this way. It says when we dissolve a substance in water and continually dilute it and shake it releases the substance from its material prison. This free substance then helps to free the patient from his “disease”.
The alchemists referred to the prepared substance that transforms as the arcane substance or transforming substance. Jung says that the transforming substance is an analogy of the macrocosm or the reflection of it imprinted in the heart of matter. He relates this to the unconscious; the alchemists related it to substance. As homeopaths we can relate it to both the substance and the unconscious for it is homeopathy that brings the two together in a therapeutic relationship.
How does this relate to the healing process in homeopathy?
In my opinion, all healing is an alchemical process and an individual may go through many stages on their path to wellness. One of the most commonly alchemical processes that I see in practice is the relationship between Coniunctio and Mortificatio. In Alchemy the coniunctio is a joining of two substances to create a third substance. A common alchemical process was to combine gold and silver in a bath of mercury to create an amalgam. This the origin of the alchemical image showing a sun and moon over a fountain.
So far we are looking at this from a materialistic point of view- from the chemistry of the alchemists. Now we must switch to the utilization of the imagery to understand what goes on in the healing process; the internal alchemy. After receiving the simillimum, a person may go through a process where parts of themselves that were lost or unconscious come together (coniunctio). If the vital force is strong enough to be able to sustain this, it is a very positive thing and creates wholeness. At this point the individual is able to more fully realize who they are and what the consequences of their actions have been. This coming together of the conscious part of the psyche with the darker or more unconscious part creates the state of mortificatio- a very unpleasant state that can feel like a depression.
Mortificatio is the most negative step in alchemy. It relates to death, to killing, to putrefaction; it is the nigredo or dark night of the soul and it is this darkness that leads to transformation, a kind of re-birth. Mortificatio has no physical process in alchemy- it is pure projection on the part of the alchemist. Imagery of death, being buried or eaten alive, and especially of the king being attacked and killed, represents mortificatio. This is the imagery connected with the breaking down of the ego so that the person may operate out of a greater perspective. It leads to a less selfish, more expansive view of life. In other words, it is a sign that the psoric miasm is being alleviated.
The only name we have for this in homeopathy is the “aggravation” which is a quite limited way to look at a profound process of transformation. If we don’t understand this state and know how to help the person through it, we may think we made a mistake and try to change the remedy.
But not all people who are treated with homeopathy go through this.
Of course. Many people are successfully treated with homeopathy and never have any form of aggravation and our goal is to cure as quickly and gently as possible. We never know what a person will have to go through in any healing process, homeopathic or other wise but what I have seen is that when people have deep pathology, on the mental, emotional or physical sphere, it is likely that they will go through the process of mortificatio. So if we want to stretch ourselves – to be able to work with people who are deeply ill, or those who are dealing with spiritual or existential dilemmas, we need to understand something of this process. Some people are looking for the philosopher’s stone and want to use homeopathy to help them achieve this; other people are delighted with symptomatic relief. That is not for us to decide, but we need to be prepared to work with whatever comes up.
I heard that you are teaching about the use of dreams. Does that relate to your study of alchemy also?
Yes. Alchemy is full of symbols of the process of healing and whether an individual knows about these or not, they often dream in these symbols when they are going through the healing process. It is an excellent way to see if the remedy is working, how deeply it is working and if another remedy is needed. This is especially important when a person is using more that one healing modality (which is almost everyone these days). If you have a good connection with your own dream state and have the trust of your client – the use of dreams opens up a whole new level of communication- one which is not easily influenced and suppressed. I also often use dreams to help find the remedy, many times a dream will be the key to a case.
It is very likely that there is no such thing as body and mind but rather that they are the same life, and what the body does is happening in the mind. This relationship is already quite clear to homeopaths on one level, however, we often use dreams in a way that misses this connection. We use the dream as if it were a separate symptom out of the context of the entirety of the case, not related to the physical sphere at all. We need techniques that will help us to use dreams in a way where they enrich the “red thread that runs throughout the case”. This way it is possible to use a dream to give a clear picture of pathology, to lead us to the remedy and help us to understand the process that is about to unfold.
Do you work this way with all of your clients?
Yes and No. Some people don’t relate to this type of work at all. It’s just like case analysis – it has to be appropriate to the case. Ultimately what is important is that the client connects with the process of homeopathy in a way that we can find the remedy and assist them in their healing. I do find, however, that doing this type of work has helped me to connect with different types of clients because I am more open to wherever they are at. Also, I see healing as an alchemical process whether or not the client speaks about his dreams and processes or not.
Any suggestions on the study of alchemy for homeopaths?
Alchemy was a secret art and the alchemists were often anonymous. There is a mystery and secrecy about it that will always be there because it is deeply individual. There are many texts on alchemy and when you begin to read them you will notice that the all describe the process in a different way. That’s because the process is different for each person. We can use the symbols of the processes as a guideline but if it is truly alchemy it will be alive and different as it is experienced through each individual. There is no alchemy without transformation of the substance – and we, as well as our remedies are the substance.