Living Alchemy–the Coniunctio

Living Alchemy The Coniunctio


“The coniunctio is the culmination of the opus. Historically, as well as psychologically, it has both an extraverted and an introverted aspect. The alchemists’ fascination with the coniunctio on the extraverted side promoted a study of the miracle of chemical combination and led to modern chemistry and nuclear physics. On the introverted side, it generated interest in unconscious imagery and processes, leading to twentieth-century depth psychology.”[1]


“Piety is needed for the work, and this is nothing but knowledge of oneself…. there must be self-observation in the work as well as of events in due time. It is evident from this that the chemical process of the coniunctio was at the same time a psychic synthesis.”[2]


“… through the mystery of the coniunctio,… the extreme opposites unite, night is wedded with day, and ‘the two shall be one, and the outside as the inside, and the male with the female neither male nor female.’ This apocryphal saying of Jesus from the beginning of the second century is indeed a paradigm for the alchemical union of opposites.”[3]


The Latin coniunctio gives us our English word “conjunction,” which is used in astrology to refer to the apparent “meeting” of two planets, when both seem to be in the same spot in a chart.[4] More widely, it translates as “union,” or “integration,” as Jung often used it in his magisterial work Mysterium Coniunctionis, the “mystery” of the coniunctio.[5] In this, the final of five essays on how alchemy can show up in life, I use the term for putting it all together, relating the operations to Jung’s personality types, and to myths and archetypes.


A Recapitulation


In the previous four essays, I illustrated the calcinatio in terms of my months-long experience of turning Jane Wheelwright’s journal into a book, with the numerous frustrations involved in that process. I noted how frustration is often a key feature of a calcinatio time, the feeling serving as an inducement to align our ego will with our Higher Will. Significant transits of Pluto often mark such calcinatio intervals.

If the intention of the calcinatio is the “refiner’s fire,”[6] the intention of the sublimatio is a “rising up,” or a conscious stepping back from a situation to see it from a higher or more objective perspective. In my life, the most extensive and demanding interval of sublimatio for me occurred in 1983-1997, as I wrestled with a series of “voice-over” dreams that redirected my life in profound ways. Uranus was the dominant planet in these years.

Two key events stand out in my memory as examples of the solutio: when my father died, and when my directive dream told me to leave teaching. In both cases a very significant “structure” dissolved: my family’s configuration in 1965, and my identity and lifestyle attuned to the academic calendar in 1985. Neptune was prominent then and for many years thereafter.

Reflecting on how my life illustrated the coagulatio brought multiple examples to mind, including writing this set of essays after a dream gave me the idea. While I recalled many instances of the coagulatio, none surpassed the building of my house. I sketched a plan on an envelope that became a 3,000 square foot structure housing the Jungian Center. The planet Saturn, moving through my fourth house (the house associated with “home”), was perfectly timed in its conjunction with my fourth house Moon, and it helped to give me the tenacity, persistence and discipline to make all the choices that were part of the building process.


The Four Functions in Relation to the Operations


Only when I got into the actual work of building did I realize how much choosing was required in turning a house plan into reality. Saturn helped, but even more, I was fortunate to be a Judging type. Judging and Perceiving are part of Jung’s system of psychological types,[7] and, as I got deeper into astrology, archetypes and alchemy, I came to integrate them with Jung’s types.

Jung provided a description of the tasks and actions that the four functions perform:

“…thinking should facilitate cognition and judgment, feeling should tell us how and to what extent a thing is important or unimportant for us, sensation should convey concrete reality to us through seeing, hearing, tasting, etc., and intuition should enable us to divine the hidden possibilities in the background, since these too belong to the complete picture of a situation.”[8]

Jungian astrologers associate these four with the four elements and their related planets: Intuition is linked with Fire, the signs of Aries, Leo and Sagittarius, and the planets Mars, the Sun, and Jupiter. Sensation is linked with the element of Earth, the signs of Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn, and the planets Venus, Mercury and Saturn. Air is the element associated with Thinking, the signs Gemini, Libra and Aquarius, and the planets Mercury, Venus and Uranus, and the element of Water is linked with Feeling, the signs of Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces, and the planets Pluto, the Moon and Neptune.[9]

Astrologers speak of three “quadruplicities,” dividing the 12 signs into “cardinal,” “fixed” and “mutable” signs,[10] and these show up in Jung’s system associated with Judging (fixed) and Perceiving (mutable) types. People with a lot of planets in Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and/or Aquarius are likely to have a preference or tendency for Judging, to come to closure, to be decisive, to find it easy to choose, while those with a predominance of Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and/or Pisces are likely to be more inclined to be Perceivers, to resist closure, to prefer to keep things open-ended, and to find it harder to choose.[11]

When a transit chart (i.e. a chart cast for a particular time and place in relation to a person’s birth chart) reveals a preponderance of Fire signs, the archetypal astrologer will spot the calcinatio at work, and suggest to the client the need to align ego will with Higher Will. With more planets in Earth, the alchemical coagulatio is asking for groundedness, and the astrologer might ask the client if there are ideas, plans or dreams that could be made manifest. If Air signs are prominent, the sublimatio is likely a theme in the client’s life, reflecting a need to rise above a situation or to step back and see a relationship or activity with more objectivity. When Water is the major element in a transit chart, it times a solutio phase, asking the client to “go with the flow,” i.e. not to resist the dissolving of something that has structured his/her life.

The different archetypes of change are easier or harder for a person to handle based on their type preference. For example, those who are strong Feelers may find it easier to go through a solutio interval, as this archetype and the Feeling function are both associated with the element of Water. Intuitive types, who may get inspirations frequently, may find calcinatio phases easier to handle, as their type and the phase are both linked with Fire. Those with a preference for Sensation and/or Judging can navigate the coagulatio archetype more readily than the other types. And the need for objectivity in a sublimatio time suits the Thinking type, with its ability to bring logic and reason to bear on situations.

Because the coagulatio phase is about manifesting something on the physical plane, it can be an interval uncongenial to Perceivers. Why so? Because doing anything in reality requires choosing, since we cannot be in two places at once, or multi-task with efficiency.[12] Strong Perceiving types usually find it hard or unpleasant to choose, to foreclose an option. I often draw on Yogi Berra’s famous advice when getting to the fork in the road. “Take it,” he said (he lived on a circle, so it didn’t matter if one turned to the right or left to get to his house). I alter his quote a bit to describe Perceivers: They get to the fork in the road, and then they stand around looking for the knife and the spoon. In other words, when facing choice points in life, Perceivers often dither.

All archetypes have both a positive and a negative potential. So, while the coagulatio has the positive potential to keep us grounded and in touch with reality, the negative can incline us to materialism and might foster greed. Its opposite, the sublimatio can offer inspiration, but it can also show up as spacey lack of realism or fantasizing. The calcinatio can fire us up with enthusiasm but also prompt headstrong willfulness or misdirection of our energies. And the solutio can dissolve obstacles but, if taken to extremes, “going with the flow” can induce sloth.


Archetypes and Myths Related to the Operations


Just as there are associations between the operations and the astrological signs, planets and elements, so there are associations to key archetypes. I mentioned in an earlier essay my senex tendencies. The senex (the old person) is one of the “paired” archetypes, its “partner” being the opposite puer (the child). The qualities of the senex link it to the element of Earth and to the signs of Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn: groundedness, practicality, realism and manifestation. By contract, the qualities of the puer resonate with the elements of Fire and Air and to the signs of Aries, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Sagittarius and Aquarius: flying, imagining, dreaming, “building castles in Spain.”

Some associations are obvious, e.g. the bride and groom (another paired set of archetypes) link to the coniunctio, for marriage is a “union.” There will often be a significant conjunction of planets (e.g. Venus, Mars, Sun, Moon) around the time of a wedding in the composite transit chart. The architect, builder and interior designer are linked with the coagulatio, as the work of these professions is all about making ideas manifest in physical reality. The addict is an archetype associated with the solutio and the planet Neptune, both for its association with liquids and spirits and for its Dionysian qualities (wine, women, song, orgies, dissolutions of all types). The investigator, spy and psychotherapist are archetypes linked with Pluto and the calcinatio, as these careers require the use of intuition, perspicacity and the holding of secrets.

The mention of Dionysus brings us to how myths relate to archetypes.[13] For example, Prometheus, the Titan who brought man fire (stealing it from Zeus to do so) is linked to both the calcinatio (Fire) and to the sublimatio (Air), for Prometheus is the idealist, the humanitarian energy within us that would make the world a better place.

Cronus, the father who ate his children (until Gaia saved Zeus from him), has associations to the coagulatio archetype and transits of Saturn (the planet of limitation, restriction and the negative father). Beside the myths about Dionysus, myths of the melusine, or mermaid, have obvious associations with Neptune and the solutio, warning of potential peril if the person succumbs to dissolute temptations.

The myth of the Minotaur calls up the coagulatio archetype (when Daedalus crafted the bull-like monster for King Minos) and the sublimatio archetype (when he crafted wings for himself and his son Icarus, allowing them to escape death by flying out of the labyrinth).

The legend of the Grail, and the various knights who sought it, offer multiple examples of the archetypes of change: the calcinatio, in their intuition and inspirations in their attempts to align their ego will (to find the Grail) with the Higher Will (to purify their desire nature, something that Parsifal, after overcoming many challenges, was able to do); the sublimatio, in their need to rise above the multiple mundane diversions and temptations, to keep their focus on their higher, spiritual task; the solutio, in their having to relinquish the familiar structure they had lived within at King Arthur’s court, to venture out on a quest without routine or boundaries; and the coagulatio, which Parsifal achieved in finding the true nature and meaning of the Grail.[14]




Myths, legends, planets, signs, elements and the archetypes of change all relate. As the laws of ecology remind us: “Everything is connected to everything else.”[15] And this is true in the realm of Jungiana. Jung recognized the value of astrology. His daughter Gert became a teacher at his Institute, guiding a group of analysts who integrated archetypes, astrology, and mythology into a form that we can use to our benefit. In this five-part series I have provided examples of how alchemy is lived. It is not some obscure medieval nonsense but a useful subject that we can use for our benefit, and part of an integrated way of thinking and living that can explain and elucidate what is going on in our lives.


For more on alchemy and how we can live it, check out the new book Living Alchemy, with 17 chapters, 6 appendices and lots of illustrations; available on our Jungian Center store.




Commoner, Barry (1971), The Closing Circle. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Edinger, Edward (1985), Anatomy of the Psyche. Chicago & LaSalle IL: Open Court Press.

Gianni, John (2004), Compass of the Soul. Gainesville FL: Center for Applications of Psychological Type.

Guttman, Ariel & Kenneth Johnson (1993), Mythic Astrology. St. Paul MN: Llewellyn Publications.

Jung, C.G. (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jung, Emma & Marie-Louise von Franz (1970), The Grail Legend. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sakoian, Frances & Louis Acker (1973), The Astrologer’s Handbook. New York: Harper & Row.

Zack, Devora (2015), Singletasking: Get More Done–One Thing at a Time. Oakland CA: Berrett–Koehler.  

[1] Edinger (1985), 211.

[2] Collected Works 14 ¶657. Hereafter Collected Works will be abbreviated CW.

[3] Ibid., ¶200.

[4] The technical definition astrologically is “the angular relationship between two planets as seen from the Earth,” with the “degree of angularity” being 0 (zero). Sakoian (1973), 21.

[5] Cf. CW 14 ¶s 201,392

[6] This term is Biblical: Mal. 3:2.

[7] Gianni (2004), 130-172 offers an in-depth description of how Judging and Perceiving work with the four functions.

[8] CW 6 ¶900.

[9] For full explanations of the signs, planets and elements, see Sakoian (1973), which became my “bible” in my first years as an astrology student.

[10] Ibid., 10.

[11] I say “more likely” because the stars do not compel; they only impel. So, while my chart is heavily oriented to mutability, I type a very strong J type.

[12] Our current society would dispute this, as the hectic pace of modern life almost forces one to do multiple things at once, but it has been shown that multi-tasking is less efficient than a single-minded focus on one task at a time. See Zack (2015).

[13] For an in-depth treatment of planets, archetypes and myths, see Guttman & Johnson (1993).

[14] For a Jungian discussion of the Grail legend, see Jung & von Franz (1970); Emma Jung died before she finished this study and Marie-Louise von Frank concluded her effort.

[15] This is one of the 4 ecological principles; the others are “Nature knows best.” “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” and “Everything must go somewhere.” See Commoner (1971), 33-46.

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