Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members. Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.
Living Alchemy The Coagulatio
“Just as calcinatio is the operation of the element fire, solutio the water operation, and sublimatio the operation pertaining to air, so coagulatio belongs to the symbolism of the element to earth. As with all the alchemical operations, coagulatio refers first of all to experience in the laboratory. Cooling can turn a liquid into a solid. A solid that has been dissolved in a solvent reappears when the solvent is evaporated. Or a chemical reaction may produce a new compound that is solid – for example, coagulation of egg white when it is heated. In essence, coagulatio is a process that turns something into earth…. It is heavy and permanent, a fixed position and shape…. Its form and location are fixed.”
“These myths tell us that coagulatio is promoted by action….”
“The next agent of coagulatio mentioned is lead. Lead is heavy, dull, and burdensome. It is associated with the planet Saturn, which carries the qualities of depression, melancholy, and galling limitation., Free, autonomous spirit must be connected with heavy reality and the limitations of personal particularity. In analytic practice this linkage with lead is often accomplished when the individual takes personal responsibility for fleeting fantasies and ideas by expressing them to the analyst or to another significant person.”
“Dreams of planes crashing or objects falling generally refer to coagulatio.” Edinger, 1985, 90
“Coagulatio is generally followed by other processes, most often by mortificatio and putrefactio. What has become fully concretized is now subject to transformation.”
“Patientia et mora are absolutely necessary in this kind of work. One must be able to wait on events. Of work there is plenty – the careful analysis of dreams and other unconscious contents.”
We can be said to live the alchemical operation of coagulatio when we turn something ephemeral into something concrete, solid, fixed in position and shape. I have been doing this in writing this series of essays on living alchemy: I woke up on August 17, 2021 with the directive to write blog essays on alchemy–how we live alchemy. That was the inspiration, my “marching orders” from my “Inner Friend.” So then I began to think about how to do this, got ideas and jotted them on the backs of envelopes. The coagulatio entered the process when I sat down at the computer, gathered the various books for the quotations, and turned the ideas and words into finished essays printed out in “hard copy.”
As I reflected on how and when in my life I have had other examples of the coagulatio phase at work, several intervals came to mind, e.g. when I got the idea to turn Jane Wheelwright’s journal into a book (the lengthy process of which I described in the essay on the calcinatio in this series). Another happened a few years ago when I crafted a cover for my sister’s curling broom. She sketched a picture on paper and then I made the idea tangible by sewing fabric to her dimensions.
The Background to My Most Significant Coagulatio Experience
Surely the most lengthy, challenging and expensive example of coagulatio in my life occurred when I built the house I now live in. I knew I wanted to live in Vermont and so I began in 2002 to look around at locations. I wanted a place with a working train station, a full-service walkable downtown (i.e. food stores, banks, bookstore, post office), an easy entrance to an interstate highway, and, within close proximity, an airport. Of all the towns and cities in Vermont, Waterbury was the only place that had all these features. Several possible parcels of land were for sale in Waterbury. I had to decide which to chose, and then I had a dream with a vivid image of the site and house on it. The coagulatio took the better part of three years to turn the dream vision into concrete reality.
Actually it was more than three years if I include the years of occasional research I had done on modular house construction. Knowing how “stick-built” construction can be vulnerable to the vagaries of weather and materials costs and availability, I thought the modular process had a lot to recommend it–built inside a factory where the conditions could be controlled, all the materials assembled and at hand, a stated date for delivery of the modules, and a firm price set at the time of contract–all at significantly less cost than “stick-built.”
I visited several modular factories and discovered the vast difference in quality among them–some scarcely different from trailer homes, others indistinguishable from high-end luxury construction. To my delight, I found one of the best modular builders not far from Waterbury–Huntington Homes in East Montpelier.
After touring the Huntington Homes factory I pulled out the sketch of my house I had drawn on the back of an envelope, and Dwayne Webster could see that my plan (rudimentary though it was) was well-suited to modular construction. From that simple pencil sketch, an image formed in his mind of how my idea could become concrete.
This was literal: While the craftsmen created the 9 modules in the factory, site workers (led by the incredibly gifted Tom Tucker) prepared the vacant lot to receive the modules. This entailed siting the house in terms of the configuration of the property (hills are ubiquitous in Vermont!), proper drainage (the heavy clay soil does not drain well), and ease of access (placing the driveway to allow snowplowing in winter). Then the concrete workers moved in and built the eight-foot high basement walls, which were then waterproofed. The final step in site prep was a surprise to me: the whole perimeter was then plumbed with drainage pipes to lessen the likelihood of a wet basement. By the time the site work was done, there were more pipes outside the house than inside!
I was very busy in this interval, taking pictures in the factory and on site, so as to provide a lasting record of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. But much less enjoyable was the assignment Dwayne gave me: To choose all the parts–the light fixtures, the appliances, the crown moldings, cove moldings, where I wanted my “trap” stubbed. Huh?
I had a crash course in the homeowner’s key tasks: learning and choosing.
There was so much to learn! First, the terms: I had no idea what “trap” meant, or “stubbing.” I spent many hours in Home Depot, lighting stores, hardware stores, plumbing supply houses and lumberyards. Huntington workers would install whatever I wanted in the moldings, fixtures and appliances, but I had to pick them out, buy them and deliver them to the factory.
In the Jungian typology system, I am highly “J”–judging, coming to closure, choosing is usually easy for me. But in this interval, when I had to travel around, study this lighting fixture versus that one, this stovetop–gas or electric?, that crown molding or another, I felt overwhelmed. There were so many decisions–choices I would be living with for years, possibly for the rest of my life!–that choosing became a real chore.
Fortunately I had a very large van which allowed me to collect everything but the refrigerator (which could not be laid flat). I made multiple trips to Huntington’s factory with the materials–all before their deadline, as I did not want to hold up the assembly line (literally: all the modules move along railroad-like bars to the various stations–foundation, wiring, plumbing, drywall installation, taping and mudwork, sanding and painting, etc.).
Right on schedule, the nine modules arrived the Monday before Thanksgiving in November 2003. All nine were sited in seven hours. Where a lot with a concrete foundation existed at 7AM, an entire house existed by 5PM. The neighbors stood around watching the amazing process as a giant crane lifted each module and the Huntington crew fixed each one in place.
The next six weeks were consumed with the finish work–putting the finishing touches on the roofs (all six of them), building the third, stand-alone garage and the back patio room, and laying the hardwood floor throughout the two stories. I had no idea how much work a hardwood floor entails!
Because I knew we had to have window shades immediately on moving in, I was on the scene all the time installing the hardware on the 37 windows. This meant I was watching the ongoing work, and this did not make me popular with the carpenters. Why? because I kept referring to the contract–the written set of requirements–that both Dwayne and I had signed when I put down the 10% deposit. Some items had been missed, and I called this to their attention. Every time I did so, I had to call Dwayne, as the men would not listen to me: they only listened to Dwayne.
The manifestation process–turning a simple sketch into a livable home–finally ended on January 19th, 2004. After the last workmen left, I walked around inside and out, feeling a mixture of relief (that the years-long endeavor was over) and amazement (that the house and site looked exactly like the dream I had had back in 2002 which guided me to choose the plot of land).
How I Lived Alchemy in This Interval
Manifesting is a key feature of the coagulatio operation: making something ephemeral or intangible into something solid. In the 2003-2004 interval, when my house developed from a pencil sketch to a building, all of us (site workers, craftsmen, on-site carpenters, and I) were fulfilling the intention of the coagulatio archetype. Architects and their building contractors work with this alchemical process all the time.
Another feature of the coagulatio is related to its intention. In order to turn an idea into physical reality one must choose. The sculptor must choose his/her substance: marble? wood? steel? The artist must choose his/her medium: gouache? oils? watercolors? tempera? The choreographer must choose the music, the dance steps, the sequences. A cook must choose a recipe, a dressmaker, the fabric and the pattern. In turning Jane’s journal into a book I had to choose the font, type size, dimensions of the book, chapter topics and, finally, the company to print the hard copy. In creating my house I had to make dozens of choices that I continue to live with now. Nothing in the tangible realm exists without choices.
As the opening quote noted, a coagulatio may be followed by a putrefactio. In terms of my house, this has taken the form of “upkeep,” repairs. The Buddha reminded us that “all compounded things decay,” so nothing in the physical realm lasts forever, and I have had the usual homeowner’s tasks of maintenance, repair and replacement. Fortunately, given how expertly the site was prepared, I have no problems with dampness in the basement, or rotting wood.
In other essays in this series on alchemy I noted the planet that corresponds to the archetype. With the coagulatio we deal with Saturn, the planet associated with lead, heaviness, darkness, melancholy, constriction, and limitation, and, more positively, with groundedness, realism, organizing ability, hard work and discipline. I would be lying if I said the house project did not come with heavy lifting (both literal and metaphoric). There was also constriction, as I had neither unlimited funds nor unlimited time to give to the project. But I brought a strong senex personality to the task, so I found the realistic planning, careful organizing, discipline and willingness to work to be congenial.
I also had my astrological chart supporting the endeavor: A Saturn transit through one’s fourth house, conjuncting the Moon, is an excellent time to build a house for a senex type like me. By 2003 I had become familiar with the archetypes, e.g. the senex, and their associations with the planets, and I knew that Saturn was linked with the senex. Saturn made a very close conjunction to my fourth-house Moon as I sat drawing up the contract with Dwayne at Huntington Homes. I also knew that, within 14 months, transiting Saturn would begin to conjunct my natal Saturn, timing my second “Saturn return,” right on schedule: I was turning 59 in 2004. The new house, in other words, would represent not only shelter but a whole new phase of my life.
Uranus was the most prominent planet in my chart in 2003. In my natal chart it is in the fourth house–the house of the home–and, not surprisingly, given that Uranus is the planet of change, I have moved 17 times. In 2003, I was packing up and selling my mother’s house and my aunt’s house, in preparation to moving both her and me to the new house. Eight aspects involving Uranus suggested that this time of major movement was in alignment with my soul’s intention. As noted in the earlier essay on the sublimatio, the prominence of Uranus was asking me to see the moves and house from a higher perspective. This enormous, time- and money-consuming endeavor was about more than shelter: the structure would house my work. Only years later, when I came to create the Jungian Center (another example of the coagulatio) did I realize that the building was to house the Center and many of its classes too.
With this fourth essay of Living Alchemy, we have considered the four major operations in the alchemical opus. In a final essay, we will relate all four to the coniunctio and to Jung’s typological system and discuss how the different personality types are likely to respond to the intentions involved with each archetype.
Edinger, Edward (1985), Anatomy of the Psyche. Chicago & LaSalle IL: Open Court Press.
Jung, C.G. (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
________ (1954), “The Practice of Psychotherapy,” CW 16, 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mizuno, Kogen (1987), Basic Buddhist Concepts.Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Company.
 Edinger (1985), 83.
 Ibid., 85.
 Ibid., 86.
 Ibid., 90.
 Ibid., 95.
 Collected Works 16 ¶466.
 This is one term I use for my psyche, or the source of my dreams and inspirations. I got this term in 1986, when I read Marie-Louise von Franz’s essay “The Process of Individuation” in Jung’s final work Man and His Symbols. In this essay von Franz noted the Naskapi Indians’ belief in their “friend” who sent them dreams of guidance and protection. This resonated immediately with me, as, by then, I had come to feel my dreams provided me with similar guidance. See Jung (1964), 162.
 A photo of this house is on the web site of the Jungian Center under “Contact” and “Location and Directions.”
 “Well-suited” in that its basic shapes and elements would fit the “module” nature of modular construction. Other designs are possible, but involve more work and time. Also, each module must fit within the limits of highway travel, as each module is brought on a large flatbed trailer, with limited width and length.
 Tom Tucker carefully drew diagrams of these pipes, in case we ever have to do digging or excavating.
 The “trap” is the large pipe in a basement into which all the various sewer drains flow; it gets “stubbed” when the plumber places the pipe that will link up to the pipe of the municipal sewer system.
 I came to conclude from these weeks of interaction with the contractor and his crew that few contractors are strong feminists.
 Edinger (1985), 95.
 This is the expression of the concept of impermanence; Mizuno (1987), 115.
 Edinger (1985), 86; cf. CW 9ii ¶215, CW 13 ¶s 164n, 274, & 445; and CW 14 ¶ 299,472n & 703.
 For more on the senex archetype, see the essays “Senex Play and Puer Play” and “The Senex and Jung’s System of Typology” archived on this web site.