Lucid dream imagery can give the dreamer an experience of wholeness, one that moves the dreamer’s psyche towards the symmetrical qualities of beauty, harmony, and balance—archetypal qualities of the divine.
Two key alchemical principles are 1) As above so below and 2) As within so without. In other words the outer world—the entire universe—mirrors our inner world. Joseph Campbell alludes to this idea in the title of his book The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and Religion (1972).
Physicists note that symmetry works as a principle inherent to our universe and light itself has symmetrical properties. Encounters with light in dreams can, by extension, be thought of as encounters with the qualities of symmetry. Colors, which are the shadows of light and darkness, possess transformative qualities.
Lucid dreams of surrender may often appear marked by symmetrical imagery of light and color. Of this experience, Ibn Arabi, the 12th century Sufi mystic has said that when a person is lost in “nothingness”, ‘God grants him an existence from his own existence and paints him the Divine Colour’. From an alchemical perspective, such an experience can be likened to the alchemical process of ‘coloring’.
The Great Work of alchemy is to find the key to the philosopher's stone—that power capable of turning dross matter into gold.
Colors and symmetry can give us an understanding of the alchemical process. The image of the four colored spheres, a hand-colored 1687 version of the Great Work of Alchemy taken from Atalanta Fugiens, depicts the spheres in the four key alchemical colors—black, white, yellow, and red—from bottom to top. This image appears at the top left of this page.
Notice how the four spheres align on the symmetry axis. The completion of the alchemical work is the full flowering of the individual personality, a flowering that results in the alignment of the individual's inner nature and their outer world. This process forms the true sacred art of alchemy. The entire image hovers above the waters as if to suggest that such a personality is in the world but not of it.
Viewed psychologically, each sphere from bottom to top reflects a stage in our individual psycho-spiritual development. The first circle represents the dense blackness of nigredo, the blackening, that characterizes the “dross matter” of our lives, all the unconscious conditioning and complexes that shape our view of reality and must be made conscious in order to be integrated and mastered.
As we learn from our life experiences, particularly those of crisis and chaos, and come into contact with our more essential nature, then we move into a clearer understanding of ourselves. The white sphere, known as albedo or the whitening, links this soulful transformation to the moon's whiteness.
Alchemically, this leads to the stage of citrinitas, the yellowing, in which we surrender our nature to a larger life purpose—we make ourselves servants of life, servants to a purpose greater than our individual egos, learning to transform our instincts and fears—that sulphurous material in our lives—into the gold of a true personality.
The final stage, denoted by the colour red, indicates a more lucid and loving re-engagement in life. In this stage, known as rubedo or the reddening, our new, deeper understanding of ourselves and the world must become manifest in waking reality. Similarly, lucid dream images of healing are only complete when the dreamer brings the dream experience of inner wholeness back into life in an attitude of service.
The ouroborus, the alchemical snake, eternally eats its own tail—a symbol of life’s constant re-generation. The symmetrical, circular form of the ouroboros not only depicts life’s eternal cycle of birth, death, and resurrection, but also the reconciliation of the opposites—represented here in the balancing of red and green.
In some alchemical images such as Emblem 1 from Abraham Eleazar's Uraltes Chymisches Werck, 1735, the ouroborus has wings. The winged ouroborus balances the qualities of Spirit and Earth, imaging the alchemical principle: Make the volatile fixed and the fixed volatile. In other words, materialize spirit and spiritualize matter. This alchemical idea parallels that of the physicist Sir James Jean who, in his The Mysterious Universe (1931), describes time as "the materialization of thought."
In ancient Egypt the ouroborus represented the belief that the sun’s solar disc was re-filled each night. In alchemy, the solar spirit is believed to enter and transform the body of sulphur into gold through the alchemical process: this describes the true sacred and great alchemical work that takes place internally each night in our dreams—the creation of the philosopher's stone.
In alchemy, the hermaphrodite, a figure that appears equally male and female, essentially transcends gender and represents the reconciliation of the opposites and the experience of union. The figure to the left (2nd from the bottom) found in the 15th century Aurora Consurgens is a strangely beautiful and raw depiction of the hermaphrodite whose nakedness suggests a pure and innocent heart.
For me, this image also signifies the lucid state in which the apparent opposites of the sleeping and waking state conjoin. The sensation of flight that is often experienced in lucid dreams is conveyed by the eagle that lifts the hermaphrodite into the air. Significantly, the hermaphrodite holds a hare and bat, creatures of the night, both of which are surrendered to the experience.
Similarly, the hermaphrodite has surrendered to the eagle. The image can also suggest the alchemical principle: “Make the volatile fixed and the fixed volatile”, that is, to spiritualize matter and materialize spirit.
In the last, more aesthetically tame image of the hermaphrodite from the 16th century Splendor Solis, the hermaphrodite holds an egg in its left hand, indicating the potential of individual consciousness, and a mirror in its right, indicating a reflective awareness and clear perception.
In a number of wisdom traditions, the mirror is said to reflect the nature of soul or clear mind. My own experience of mirrors in lucid dreams has sparked my interest in the role of mirror symmetry in dreams, particularly in lucid dreams. See the download “The Science of Mirrors” for more this topic.