The active principle seeks the passive principle; fullness is in love with emptiness. The jaws of the serpent attract its tail and, turning on itself, it flees and chases itself. The symbolic serpent turns always devouring its tail; is that there is a need, by reason of being, that in every fullness there is a void, in every magnitude a space, in every affirmation a negation; it is the eternal realization of the allegory of the phoenix.
Eliphas Lévi, 1854
The symbol of the prima materia is not without purpose a snake that has its tail in its mouth... The serpent with the tail in the mouth is equivalent to the cycle of vital energy, to the rotating wheel of life, of permanent procreation, and of the creation of the world... The serpent is good and also evil. Whoever breaks through the ring frees himself from the wheel of compulsion, raises himself above good and evil, in order to put in its place later a mystical union [Hieros Gamos].
Herbert Silberer, 1914.
In the age-old image of the uroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself. The uroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e., of the shadow. This “feed-back” process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the uroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which, as a projection, unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.
Carl Gustav Jung, 1956.
In alchemy the purification is the result of numerous distillations; in psychology too it comes from an equally thorough separation of the ordinary ego-personality from all inflationary admixtures of unconscious material. This task entails the most painstaking self-examination and self-education, which can, however, be passed on to others by one who has acquired the discipline himself.
Carl Gustav Jung, 1946.
Isolation and being with oneself is a prerequisite for interiorization. The uninitiated who must be admitted is, to use the language of alchemy, the subject, in whom the process of purification must be perfected. The alchemists put the subject in a narrow vessel that must be hermetically sealed and separated from the outside world. There he is subjected to putrefaction as in a tomb. Interiorization leads him to the depths of his heart.
Herbert Silberer, 1914
The sulfur, salt and mercury that the alchemists speak of represent the various elements of the human psyche. The vessel in which they were mixed, the Athanor, symbolizes man himself. The fire on which it is placed has the significant name of Incendium amoris, and symbolizes that transforming force that is the heat of spiritual love. Substances subjected to this procedure undergo three transformations: in the first phase, they become black, called putrefaction, and correspond to the stage of purgation or purification of which the mystics speak; in the second phase, they become white and become silver, and this corresponds to the illumination of the soul; finally, in the third and higher phase, they become red and become gold, that spiritual gold that is the conclusion of the Magnum Opus and corresponds to the glorious unitive state of the mystics.
Roberto Assagioli, 1973
There is a phrase in the Work that states that it is necessary to transmute "lead" into "gold". This is to speak in terms of the ancient alchemical language. The subject of true Alchemy was Man and his inner transformation. But the Work adds that a person must already have gold to make more gold... Many medieval esoteric teachers, hiding their teaching under terms of alchemy, spoke of distillation and designed retorts, ovens and other such apparatus in their strange diagrams. Separating the coarsest from the finest is our daily task in this Work.
Maurice Nicoll, 1944
In this state of primitive innocence, of rediscovered philosophical candor, the subject is enclosed in a reduced space, where no external light penetrates. It is the Cabinet of Reflection, which corresponds to the alchemist's enclosure, to his hermetically sealed Philosophical Egg. There the profane finds the dark tomb, where he must voluntarily die to his past existence. By breaking down those layers that are opposed to the free expansion of the germ of the individuality, this symbolic death is a prelude to the birth of the new being, who will be the Initiate. The Initiate is born from putrefaction, represented by the black color of the alchemists.
Oswald Wirth, 1910