Review: ‘Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology’

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Alchemy : An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology (Studies in Jungian Psychology)Alchemy : An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology by Marie-Louise von Franz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The late Marie-Louise von Franz (1915 -1998) was a Jungian analyst and colleague/student of Carl Jung. She is widely known for her penetrating treatises about seeker’s journey motifs, alchemical texts and fairy tales as well as an accessible biography of Jung.

Here again, her insights are profound and broad in scope. The book, published in 1980, is composed of lectures she presented in Zurich in 1959. The lectures contain excerpts from European, Arabic and Greek alchemical texts along with her explanation of the symbolism they contain. Her focus here is the relationship between alchemical process and Jungian analysis as discovered through an examination of the chosen texts.

The difficulty in the book comes not so much from the fact that the lecturers were intended for serious students of Jungian psychology rather than those outside the field, but from the format itself. First, it scatters terms and symbols throughout the book depending on where they appeared in one of the excerpted fragments. This is counter-intuitive to readers expecting an organized, one-to-one comparison of alchemical steps with the individuation process in or out of a therapy setting. This would make the book a true introduction as its subtitle implies.

Second, in as much as the lectures focus on what was to be found in the texts rather than on an orderly presentation of alchemy and individuation, the book suffers by dedicating more space to the excerpts than an introduction requires. That is, the text fragments are less interesting, informative and succinctly on point than von Franz’s material. One wishes for more of von Franz and less of the ancients here.

That said, readers who are familiar with Jungian psychology, inner alchemy and related philosophies will experience many “Eureka Moments” as the meaning behind long-puzzling symbols, archetypes, drawings, and processes suddenly clicks into place. Outside of the decision to use a series of already-completed lectures rather writing an introductory work from scratch, the information and insight found here are exceptional.

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