Alchemy, Witchcraft, and Magic:
New Looks at Old Archetypal Images


ADA 1500
Division of Social and Behaviorial Sciences
Sullivan County Community College
Loch Sheldrake, New York
by Thomas Rue, M.A., Asst. Prof..

December 1989, 2004. All rights reserved.


This article concerns those aspects of humanistic psychology, moral philosophy, religion and science which come together under the headings of alchemy, witchcraft, and magic.

These three words conjure archetypal images of mystic significance. This may be because their content relates to something in that part of the collective and individual psyche which students of Jung recognize as the shadow (Ulanov, 1977), defined as "the parts of oneself that one considers unpresentable, because they seem weak, socially unacceptable, or even evil" (Mattoon, 1981.)

von Franz (1964) pointed out: "The shadow is not necessarily always an opponent. In fact, [it] is exactly like any human being with whom one has to get along, sometimes by giving in, sometimes by resisting, sometimes by giving love -- whatever the situation requires. The shadow becomes hostile only when [it] is ignored or misunderstood.

Another writer has asserted:

Alchemical symbolism gives us numerous examples of the central archetype as a union of opposites. For example, the philosopher's stone, one of the goals of the alchemical process, was depicted as resulting from the marriage of the red king and the white queen, or from the union of sun and moon, fire and water. The product of such a union is a paradoxical image often described as hermaphroditic. Other images which are often used to express the union of opposites are the reconciliation of opposing partisan factions and the reconciliation of good and evil..." (Edinger, 1968.)

Other writers (Sadoul, 1972; Thompson, 1973) have addressed the archetypal significance of the concepts of alchemy and magic.

From ancient times, humanity's great thinkers have explained existence in terms of duality: androgyny, balance, homeostasis, and karma.

In severing the feminine principle from the Divine, traditions like Juaism, Christianity or Islam seem to deny the very essence of the spiral of Life. Early Greek, Roman, Minoan, Celtic, Native American, and other ancient cultures, reverenced goddess images (conceptual and tangible); a practice in which some find meaning and relevance today (Adler, 1986.)

The fiery and vengeful He-man God of Jerry Fallwell or Jim Baker, known variously as El, Y-H-V-H, Adonai, or the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- seems to some scholars to have been a deliberate corruption by patriarchal conspirators bent on deleting the feminine principle (Berger, 1985; Ranck, 1986; Rowan, 1978; Starhawk, 1979.)

Whether this "changing of the gods," as it has been called (Goldenberg, 1979), was calculated or the result of a neurotic psychic schism in the group consciousness, is both unknown and perhaps of interest more to historians than to psychologists. There is more than one theory concerning exactly when this epic transition took place, but some have postulated that it occurred somewhere around the time of the mythical King Arthur (Bradley, 1977.) Whenever the shift took place, in an age when nuclear destruction is a possibility reassessment of world views and ways of thingking seems essential.

The Goddess has been restored from her obscurity, evidenced by the popularity of such writers as Starhaw, Erica Jong, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Margot Adler (the granddaughter of Alfred Adler), and others, have given the pagan revival an identifiable presence among Unitarian Universalists, a mainstream religious denomination. Hundreds of independent neo-pagan groups exist in the United States alone (Adler, 1979), ranging from basic units called covens or other small groups designed for study and ritual practice, to national networks and organizations.

Finding local groups is sometimes difficult, but they are definitely out there. Most circles keep their profile in the community rather low, preferring to maintain their religious beliefs or spiritual practices a private matter. But many such groups -- such as, for example, the Covenant of the Goddess, Church Sanctuary, and the Church of All Worlds -- are incorporated and recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as tax-exempt churches, thereby making the organization structures a matter of public record.

Ancient paganism is a diverse collection of venerable and not-so-venerable religions. Wicca is one branch of the current-day pagan movement. Modern heavy-metal music and American satanists borrow heavily from pre-Christian symbols such as the five-pointed pentagram, but closer examination reveals the ritual of the infamous Black Mass is a corruption of sacraments of the Catholic church (Gardner, 1959), rather than a vestige of the old religion. The inverted pentagram has become identified with negative elements, but witchcraft predates the idea of an adversarial "Satan" (Buckland, 1987.)

Even some who allege sensationally that "history's most notorious slayers have been controlled by the Occult (Steiger & Smith, 1979) admit:

A knowledge of the philosophies of cultist groups would enable a police officer to differentiate between a sincere witch who humbly follows the Horned God and the ways of the Old Religion, or a Flower Child who genuinely practices peace, love, and brotherhood and a self-indulgent, lazy-minded acidhead who distorts metaphysics to excuse his own self-serving appetites.

The two youthful criminals recently apprehended in Mamakating, New York, caught in the act by state troopers in their midnight excavation of a local cemetery (Emerson, 1989), and others like them, bear no connection to the neo-pagan movement described here.

However, as with most generalizations about the pagan community, there is room for legitimate disagreement with this. an article in the Wiccan newsletter (White Water, 1988) aroused controversy in at least one Philadelphia area coven when Satanists were acknowledge as the "problem children" of the pagan revival movement. But it is probably safe to say that nearly all Wiccans regard the Judeo-Christian personification of the evil principle as entirely foreign to their own worldview.

Some would argue that the creation by patriarchists of the Satan myth actually caused the type of hatred, intolerance and bigotry observed in religious fanaticism, the teachings of the Ku Klux Klan, or certain policies of the Third Reich. The God/Satan model encourages individual and groups to think of themselves as better, holier, or more deserving than their adversaries, or perhaps a member of a "chosen people."

The renewed appearance of the faces of Isis, Innana, Ceres, and Hekate in the contemporary pantheon offer restored means of aspiring to what Jung terms individuation (Mattoon, 1988) and Carl Rogers, self-actualization (Rogers, 1965.)

The concept among Celtic and other ancient peoples of a Triple Goddess -- maiden, mother, and crone -- long preceded the relatively modern concept of an all-male divine Trinity (Berger, 1985.) For example, the Greek goddess Hekate (Hecate) originally hailed from Asia Minor, where she was known as Caria. She was the goddess of the crossroads. In this capacity she was called Enodia or Troditis, and was depicted as three-headed or with three bodies (Lurker, 1984.) Her typology is observed in the three phases of the moon -- waxing, full, and waning (maiden, mother and crone.)

Another is embodied in the title of a contemporary book, Gaia: A new look at life on Earth (Lovelock, 1979), putting forth a revolutionary and simple explanation of the nature of life. Impregnated by Eros (the god of love), of Gaia were born the heavens and earth. "In art, her beneficient fecundity is often symbolized by attributes such as a cornucopia and the fruits of the soil" (Lurker, 1984.) She is the Eternal Mother, all but forgotten in our so-called Christian nation. She is the planet which gave us birth and to whose elements we will all return.

Pre-Columbian natives in the region of the Upper Delaware River reported "a creation myth involving a pregnant woman falling from the sky" (Goddard, 1978.)

In all, She will endure; She will heal herself of humanity's ills eventually, whether by fire or a less painful cleansing. While preferable to hope humanity will continue as part of Her cycles, that is up to the humans whose collective mind is Her consciousness.

In conclusion, iy is posited that the so-called "Old Religion" which is embodied in the neo-pagan movement involves a variety of healthy and positive views, which if they are accepted as true result a variety of personal blessings; and that principles inherent in paganism are applicable in the field pastoral counseling.


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