Alchemical Psychology: Old Recipes for Living in a New World

Alchemical Psychology: Old Recipes for Living in a New World

By Thom F. Cavalii
New York: Jeremy R. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002. Paperback, 365 pages.

Thom Cavalli's new book provides a very readable introduction for the nonspecialist to the Jungian approach to alchemy- sometimes called the Great Work. Here, alchemy is the quest for the transformation of the "lead" of our unconscious lives into the "gold" of greater consciousness and psychological integration. The book is written in an entertaining style and includes helpful chart's and pictures; with plenty of space, for notes. The attractive presentation is unfortunately marred by a number of small errors - for example, Albertus Magnus has become Albertus Magus, and Wittgenstein might be surprised to find himself listed as a physicist.

In a welcome move, Cavalli acknowledges that alchemy also has legitimate physical laboratory applications and higher spiritual aspects, but that explicitly psychological readings of the Work only made their appearance in the last hundred years. However, I was disappointed that he did not give more than a passing nod to nonpsychological approaches to alchemy, leaving his psychotherapeutic approach to stand alone, at least as far as this book is concerned.

As Cavalli himself states, the psyche is only one level of our being. One of the strengths of the alchemical tradition is its ability to describe and catalyze transformation on all levels-elemental, physical, psychological, and spiritual. Cavalli's readers might want to broaden their search by investigating laboratory alchemy (e.g., the courses written by Jean Dubois for the Philosophers of Nature), alchemical magic (e.g., David Goddard, The Tower of AlchemyGareth Knight, Experience of the Inner Worlds and The Secret Tradition in Arthurian Legend), and spiritual alchemy (e.g., the sacramental alchemy of Paul Blighton, The Philosophy of Sacramental Initiation and The Book of Alchemy).

Cavalli's practical exercises and clear language will insure that his book is a valuable help to seekers. Nonetheless, we know our soul only in living experience and in union with our body and our spirit, and the wise operator will not neglect these aspects of being in the alchemical Work. After all, "what is below is like that which is above, and what is above is like that which is below, to accomplish the miracle of the one thing."


March/April 2003