Foundations of Creative Alchemy
Spiritual Alchemy, Creativity, and the Three Great Planes
From the initial spark of inspiration to the moment of completion, the artistic process is a deeply transformative journey of emotional catharsis and self-discovery.
But as with any valued path, this process can also lead us down dark trails, rife with external obstacles and internal challenges.
Without understanding the territory of creation, the journey can seem long and treacherous—leaving us feeling lost and unsure of where to turn.
Hidden within the protoscientific writings of the adept alchemists, there exists a universal roadmap for creative transformation.
With this arcane wisdom, we can courageously navigate the artistic process and develop the tools needed to work through the obstacles that keep us from creating what we truly desire.
Alchemy is usually defined as the art of transformation, but the art of the practice is often overlooked or misunderstood. And while all alchemy is transformative, not all transformation is alchemy.
According to Dennis Hauck, in his book Alchemistic Philosophy: for alchemical transformation to be complete, it must be performed on all levels of reality.
These levels are known in Hermeticism as the Three Great Planes: the spiritual plane, the mental plane, and the physical plane—each plane corresponding to and having an influence on the next.
The Three Great Planes are among the many expressions of the trinity in alchemy known as the Tria Prima (sulphur, mercury, and salt). Attributes of the Tria Prima can be found in all of nature and represent the creation archetypes of father, mother, and child.
“That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and what is Above corresponds to that which is Below to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing.”— Hermes Trismegistus, The Emerald Tablet
It is believed that whether macrocosmic or microcosmic, all acts of creation are a generative cycle between the above and the below.
Just as our spiritual impulses affect our mental processes and our mental processes affect our actions, our actions also send clear messages back to the upper planes of our being.
This is the natural cycle of manifestation for all human beings—our creative life process. This cycle influences not only what we put out as creators, but also the blocks and undesirable outcomes that we experience.
Even in daily life, our negative self-talk and discordant actions telegraph messages to the subconscious mind affirming our limiting beliefs and fears.
When we interpret these experiences as being out of our control, we are likely to miss the opportunity for alchemical transformation and creative growth.
Creative alchemy aims to bring each of the corresponding planes into conscious alignment so that we can become clear channels for creative expression.
When one plane is neglected, the other two suffer, and what we create may not be what we intend.
In this article, we’ll explore how creativity is expressed on the Three Great Planes and how you can utilize alchemy to supercharge your creative process and create with aligned intention.
Creativity on the Spiritual Plane
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Without, everything seems discordant; only within does it coalesce into unity. Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.”— Carl Jung, Letters – Vol. I, 1906-1950
The spiritual plane correlates to the archetypal qualities of the higher self, including our spiritual ideals, principles, and inner guidance.
This is the realm of our creative spirit—what some may refer to as the higher self, the inner guide, divine muse, or superconsciousness.
It is from this plane that we channel inspiration, visions, epiphanies, revelations, spiritual impulses, and “downloads” of insight and creativity.
Before we have ideas or thoughts about what we want to create, we experience some desire or attraction to certain ideals or qualities. These impulses are what inspire us to seek form and expression.
Our very will to create, express, and self-actualize have their roots in the spiritual plane.
Signs of Spiritual Misalignment or Disconnection
When we are out of alignment with the spirit of our intention, we may feel discouraged, uninspired, discontented, and cut off from the quality of purpose that facilitates true fulfillment.
If we tend to overemphasize states of mental and physical being but neglect our spiritual needs, our creative works may wind up feeling labored or inauthentic.
Even when motivated by our higher callings, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by cultural expectations surrounding material wealth, performance, and achievement.
While there is nothing wrong with focusing on these facets of life, they can become a source of internal disruption if we don’t make a conscious effort to keep coming back to our intention.
When we are primarily focused on external outcomes or expectations, we are more likely to override our heartfelt desires, prematurely analyze our work and worry excessively about whether what we are creating is “significant” or “good enough”.
In many cases, an extended period of disconnection or misalignment may lead to avoidance and retreat from the creative process altogether.
If this is where you are right now, be gentle with yourself.
No matter what has unfolded in the past, you can always reconnect and realize your creative power.
Reconnecting with Your Creative Spirit
Tap into your true creative values.
You can start reconnecting with your creative spirit by tapping into the desires, values, and love of the process that initially drove you to create in the first place.
Seek to intuitively clarify your values and intentions in general, thematic ways, rather than worrying about the finer details.
An easy way to awaken these values is to bask in the works of those who inspire you.
Listen to your favorite music, study your favorite paintings, read your favorite books, and recall what particular qualities, messages, moods, or attitudes you are attracted to in these works.
Actively make a point to connect.
Connecting to your creative spirit is like connecting with anyone you wish to develop a loving relationship with.
If you don’t show up when you say you will, pass judgments, or make demands without taking the time to listen, it will inevitably begin to wear down the relationship.
Realize that this is a process of recovery and self-love. It may take time.
You can begin this process by designing simple daily rituals that connect you to your heartfelt intention and inspire you.
Take time to meditate, journal, and be in nature. Honor your callings and allow yourself to experience what it’s like to create without limitations or conditions.
Journal Prompts for Initiating Spiritual Alchemy
- What qualities, values, or concepts are you innately attracted to or inspired by?
- What creative projects have you enjoyed doing despite their lack of “success”?
- What subjects or activities cultivate a sense of connection, purpose, and excitement?
- When you leave this earth, how do you want to be remembered?
- If you could do anything with your life (without limitations), what would you do?
Creativity on the Mental Plane
“A mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth.”― James Allen, As a Man Thinketh (1903)
Our mental plane is composed of all conscious and unconscious psychological processes, including thought, logic, feeling, imagination, memory, perception, and belief.
The mental plane stands halfway between the spiritual and physical planes and serves as a conduit, messenger, or mediator between them.
On the mental plane, formless impulses begin to take shape but are still unfettered by physical limitations.
In the mind, we can be, do, say, contemplate, and design anything. We can mentally place ourselves anywhere in the universe, in the present, future, past, or outside of time altogether.
By simply shifting our thoughts or tuning into our emotions, we can completely change our experience of life—choosing to perceive reality in new and radical ways.
More often than not, we use the creative power of our minds to hold onto concerns about the past or future.
Because the mind doesn’t discriminate between reality and fantasy, this can result in undesirable emotional and physiological states that negatively impact the way we interact with the world.
Whatever is held in the crucible of the mind, the mind will “bring forth”.
To unlock the mind’s true power, we must learn to direct our attention towards what we want to create.
The mental plane consists of consciousness that has been individualized and articulated in some way.
Once a spark individuates from the spiritual plane as an impulse or desire, it then manifests in the realm of the mind as concepts, ideas, stories, feelings, images, or symbols.
As inspiration enters the psyche, we are called beyond merely desiring a certain quality and toward understanding or conceptualizing it.
An open mind is receptive to guidance from the higher self/creative spirit and responsible for stewarding the flow of energy from inspiration to action.
In a sense, the mind is the intermediary who listens to the desires and values from above and translates them into physical form.
To create a clear channel for creative flow and conscious manifestation, we must learn to balance the two great powers of mental activity and mental passivity.
Signs of Imbalance on the Mental Plane
When we are predominately passive on the mental plane, we may delight in receiving ideas and fantasizing about the outcomes, but find it hard to refine and complete our work without experiencing an overwhelming amount of stress.
The great novelist William Faulkner said that artists must be able to “kill your darlings”—that is, to be able to leave on the cutting room floor parts of the piece that you love, but simply don’t work within the context of the whole.
In alchemy, this concept is reflected in the axiom “solve et coagula” meaning, to dissolve away what is no longer needed and recombine the essential parts.
Being predominantly active on the mental plane is characteristic of one who wants to “get it all figured out” before putting the brush to the canvas, or one who is so strict about the aim, purpose, or conceptual meaning of their work that they leave no room for organic exploration in the process.
Usually, when we are excessively rigid about how our work should take shape, we get stuck.
Without a balance between spontaneous flow (passivity) and deliberate refinement (activity), the creative process can become dispiriting and difficult to ground.
Balancing the Two Contraries of the Mind
Flow now, refine later.
In creative alchemy, aligning the mental plane requires a balance of both spontaneous creativity and deliberate creativity.
Creativity requires a sense of safety and trust between the two contraries of the mind. Begin by cultivating an inner space for ideas to be heard and seen without censoring, criticizing, or judging what comes through.
Oftentimes, we can get so caught up worrying about the end result that we stagnate our creativity by allowing our inner editor to speak before the idea has even been fully expressed.
Allow your inner editor to take a back seat when you’re in the stages of brainstorming or drafting. When it’s time to start refining, you can apply a more direct approach and revise what you have created so far.
When you permit yourself to create without boundaries, you are free to BE creative.
Later you can begin the refinement process. You can go back and forth as much as is needed, but try giving yourself separate times to do this so that your ideas can be freely expressed without limitation.
Make the unconscious conscious.
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung famously said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.”
Creative energy can be directed in one of two ways. Consciously or unconsciously. Whether we intend to or not, we are always engaged in a creative process.
Many of the creative blocks that we experience are simply manifestations of unconscious beliefs or fears that, on some level, we hold to be true.
In reality, creative energy can never be blocked; it can only be misdirected.
When your creative energy is spent focusing on what you don’t want, it’s difficult to create what you do want.
Get to know your Shadow Self.
Jung, who spent much of his career studying alchemy, referred to one of the processes of “making the unconscious conscious” as shadow work.
Shadow Work is the process of illuminating and integrating the rejected aspects of ourselves that are hidden below the threshold of our conscious awareness.
The shadow develops early in life as we learn to differentiate between the parts of us that are “good” and the parts of us that are “bad”. We allow the parts that we perceive to be good to be seen while the parts we believe to be unacceptable get safely tucked away.
When the shadow has not been integrated, it has a tendency to redirect our creative energies and sabotage our intentions without our knowing.
Growing up, we may have learned to hide our authentic selves in order to receive love or avoid rejection. Because of this, among the parts we wish to keep hidden are often our greatest strengths and unique gifts.
You can begin the process of revealing and integrating your shadow through artmaking, reflective journaling, dreamwork, exploring archetypes, stream of consciousness writing, meditation, and hypnosis.
Journal Prompts for Initiating Mental Alchemy
- What do you fear most when working towards your creative goals?
- How have these fears impacted your creative process in the past?
- How do you cope with setbacks and obstacles that are within your control? How do you cope with setbacks and obstacles that are out of your control?
- What language or thought patterns do you repeat when things don’t go as planned?
- What have you learned about yourself in this exercise? In the future, what will you do differently?
Creativity on the Physical Plane
“Its inherent strength is perfected if it is turned into earth.“— Hermes Trismegistus (The Emerald Tablet)
The physical plane is the world of seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and touching that we all know and live in every single day.
This is the realm in which ideas and aspirations are brought into form through our actions and habits.
As it is written in the Emerald Tablet, once an alchemist has completed all 7 Stages of Alchemical Transformation, physical form becomes a vessel for containing “the power of both the Above and the Below”.
By completing and releasing our creative work, we are simultaneously facilitating a process of spiritual fulfillment and liberation within ourselves.
The goal of alchemy is not to merely transmute one thing into another thing (e.g., lead into gold), but to do so in honor of making the spiritual corporeal and the corporeal spiritual.
Without the final step of turning our highest intentions into earth, we are missing the true essence of alchemy.
Signs of Imbalance on the Physical Plane
Under-activity on the physical plane manifests as what is sometimes referred to as rust-out (the opposite of burnout).
In this state, we may experience difficulty staying consistent and committed to finishing projects. We may feel unable to apply sufficient diligence, discipline, or the hard work necessary to realize our intentions.
Under-activity in the physical plane is typically an indicator of unresolved wounds on the mental plane or lack of intrinsic motivation from the spiritual plane.
Chronic procrastination and unfinished projects often lead to low self-esteem and feelings of defeat or failure. This can generate a sense of being burdened by the weight of what we have not yet fully expressed.
Whether we bring a project to completion or decide to no longer pursue it, it’s essential that we release our work in some form—even if it is just to simply let it go.
Unreleased work can drain our energy on an unconscious level and prevent us from moving forward.
Alternatively, we may have limiting beliefs about the physical plane that hinder our ability to progress creatively, including the perspective that money is “unspiritual” or that a true artist has to suffer in poverty to live up to bohemian virtues.
There may be resentment for the restrictions of the physical world or an aversion to adjusting our ideas in order to successfully bring work to completion.
Over-activity on the physical plane tends to manifest as an unwillingness to try new approaches, or an addiction to specific routines or methods, even when they prove fruitless or counter-productive.
There may be chronic workaholism, or a reluctance to take the time to reflect, marinate, and ripen our work without touching it.
Often, the best thing we can do when experiencing burnout is to step back, create space, and make the time for self-care.
Grounding Your Creative Intentions in Reality
Consecrate your creative space and time.
You can initiate alchemy by designing an external environment that reflects back to you what you want to create internally.
Clearing clutter, changing and rearranging the space, moving to an entirely new location, or trying to work in a new environment are all actions that send a signal of “transformation” to the mental and spiritual planes.
What is your environment currently communicating? What does your creative space look and feel like? Is it messy, chaotic, noisy, or distracting in any way?
One of the most important things you can do for your process is to consecrate your creative space. When you declare your space as sacred, protect, and honor it, it sets the tone for your entire process.
You can begin consecrating your workspace by simply clearing clutter, adding decorative elements that inspire you, turning off your phone, and hanging a “No Entry” sign on your door.
Write down how you intend to utilize and honor this space and what you will do to protect it.
Once you have set up your creative space, it’s vital that you also consecrate your creative time. This means creating boundaries around the timeframes that you intend to dedicate to your creative endeavors.
How much time per day or week are you willing to set aside for your highest purpose? What can you do to stay focused and minimize distractions?
At the beginning of your creative session, you may find it helpful to set an intention for spiritual connection, receptivity, and focus. At the end of the session, it’s a good idea to ground and clear your space energetically so that you can consciously transition into the next activity of your day.
Design creative rituals that promote subconscious change.
Aligning the physical plane begins with developing rituals that are meaningful to you and serve your highest intentions. Through the outflow of action and the inflow of the senses, you can affect and direct the creative energy of your Mind and Spirit.
When you engage your senses during creative rituals, meditation, or trancework, it facilitates deliberate communication between the upper/inner and lower/outer planes—allowing you to make meaningful changes on a subconscious level.
You can begin by incorporating things you already own that help you connect to your intention— e.g., scents, sounds, symbols, and other sensory information rooted in the physical plane.
Think about what you would like to create or change. What objects do you own that symbolically represent these desires? How you personally relate to these items is more important than what you’ll ever read in a book. Trust your intuition.
Commit to daily actions that support your intentions.
It’s never beneficial to force creativity, but if you’ve made a promise to yourself, there are always supplementary activities that you can do on low-energy days—like refining your ideas or reviewing the work you have so far.
With that in mind, it’s also important to allow for downtime so that you can recharge your battery and come back to your work feeling refreshed and energized.
If your body is feeling stressed, take time to rest and enjoy life.
It is from within the space between our deliberate actions that inspiration emerges and ideas turn to gold.
Journaling Prompts for Initiating Alchemical Action
- What would you like to achieve within the next year? 6 months? 3 months?
- Why are these goals important to you? How might you feel once you have achieved them?
- If you were to continue doing things exactly as you always have, would you be able to accomplish your goals? If not, what do you need to do more of? What do you need to do less of?
- Create a list of the resources you need to get started. Which of these do you already have? What do you need to do to acquire the ones you don’t have?
- What changes can you make today? What changes can you make tomorrow?
Continuing on Your Path
When we as creators find unity, wholeness, and balance in our inner world, we also find unity, wholeness, and balance in the outer world. This is one of the meanings hidden in the Hermetic axiom, “As above, so below—As within, so without.”
Sometimes it can feel as though our efforts are fruitless, or that the universe is conspiring against us. And while there will always be things outside of our control, there are often many things overlooked that are within our control and within our power to change.
Alchemy empowers us to create with intention, become conscious of our creative authority, and use it for the highest good.
When we are ready to accept that the work we do externally influences what manifests internally and the work that we do internally influences what manifests externally, we can begin to create what we truly desire.
Life itself is alchemical work, and you are the artist of your life, so find your balance and enjoy creating it!
Do you have any experiences with The Three Great Planes that you’d like to share? Scroll down to the bottom of the page to leave a comment.
Although we covered a lot in this article, I’ll be going into greater detail about creative blocks and how to further balance the planes of creation in the articles to come. If you’d like to continue receiving updates each time I post, you can subscribe here.
If you’re interested in learning more about Creative Spiritual Alchemy or how you can work with me, you’re welcome to book a complimentary call, email me directly, or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!