Lucid Dreams and Alchemical Emblems


The Four-Fold Sphere from Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens (1618)[10], Emblem 17, represents the completion of the Great Work of alchemy—the transformation of the dross material of our lives into the pure gold of an authentic personality. This internal balance is illustrated in the four spheres—four the number of completion and the sphere, which is infinitely symmetrical.  Like alchemical emblems such as this one, lucid dream images reflect the dreamer’s internal psycho-spiritual state, with symmetrical images providing inner balance.

The emblems on this page and most on this site are illustrations done by Adam McClean who has generously given permission for their use. These and many more beautifully rendered emblems can be found on Adam has published a book of his alchemical drawings:


This illustration, “Peering  through the Cosmic Sphere,” from L'atmosphere: Meteorologie Populaire, Paris 1888, by Camille Flammarion, is often used to illustrate the joy and wonder of the lucid dream state. As the brain state of lucid dreaming appears to be a neurological balance between waking and sleeping, perhaps this seems why it is often experienced by the dreamer as being between two worlds or in a new dimension.[11]  Alchemical images across cultures map the characteristics of the lucid dreamer’s consciousness. My personal belief is that such imagery is an effort of the mind to translate the subjective experience of the lucid dream state into an objective truth that is present and real to the dreamer.


Another image from Maier’ s Atalanta Fugiens, Emblem  8, aptly depicts the moment of lucidity in the slicing of the philosophical egg, a portrayal of cutting through our conditioned worldview. This occurs when the dreamer withdraws psychological projections from the dream imagery, recognizing the dream as an illusion. To the lucid dreamer, this recognition is characteristically felt as an energizing shift in awareness. Neurologically, the electrical charge in the frontal cortex is increasing.[12]  This firing up of energy, when contained, as in the hearth, opens up the lucid dream state. In the emblem, this is indicated through the door at the end of the perspective lines that opens to another dimension.


Traditionally, this engraving 9 from J.D. Mylius’s Philosophia Reformata, Frankfurt, 1622, has been associated with the first stage of the alchemical process, nigredo, the blackening, when the individual works through their mental conditioning and complexes, a process of ego death that leads to a deeper understanding of one’s inner nature. However, from a lucid perspective, this emblem depicts what happens at the moment of surrender in lucid dreams when the dreamscape falls away. This is experienced as a death for the ego and the five senses, represented by the skeleton, and the emergence of black light—or inner light—represented by the black sun. As this emblem starkly demonstrates, European alchemical images tend to be abruptly literal: the skeleton stands on the black sun from which the black light of the inner sun shines.  When the dreamscape and dreambody disappear, very often the sensation is one of flying or being guided, experiences translated into the image of the raven and angelic beings.


Alchemically, this image from the 16th century Splendor of Solis of the peacock in the alchemical flask is viewed as demarking the end of nigredo and the movement into stages wherein the personality is more fully realized. This phase is known as “the peacock’s tail".[13]  The peacock’s tail, full of symmetrical patterns and vibrant colors, symbolizes the expansion of the personality.  At the same time, this image can also be understood as depicting the lucid dreamer’s encounter with forms of light and color and the expansion of consciousness that results.  As in the illustration of the Amphitheater of Eternal Wisdom, images of music frame the peacock, indicating the presence of harmony and proportion.  There are also scenes of love that convey the ecstatic experience so often described by lucid dreamers.

Looking at these emblems, you may have noticed that they are all centered along a symmetry axis. We have already considered how the qualities of symmetry—proportion, harmony, balance, qualities associated with the Divine—are important to the alchemist’s work.  As in alchemy, symmetry plays a key role in lucid dreams of surrender.  See Lucidity & Symmetry for more on this topic.