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Nigredo Stage in Alchemy and Shadow Work

2 min read

In alchemy, Nigredo, or blackness means putrefaction or decomposition. It was believed by alchemists that a first step towards the philosopher’s stone required all ingredients to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter.

But why is the Nigredo stage important? What is the meaning of the Nigredo stage in alchemy? What does Nigredo have to do with Shadow Work?

Find answers to these and more questions on the HermesHub YT channel.

For Carl Jung, ‘The purpose of Alchemy is to liberate the whole individual which is hidden in the darkness, threatened by the rational and correct conduct of life, consequently experiencing themselves as hindered and on the wrong path.’

The Nigredo or blackness was the initial stage of the alchemical process. It is the original dark chaos, also known as massa confusa, where all the elements were chaotically swirling around together. It could also represent a state of separation where the elements were separated from one-another. In this state, a union of opposites is needed and male and female lay together to produce a third. This third product of their union known as “lesser coniunctio” is marked for death and so the mourning period begins – the so-called Nigredo phase.

For Carl Jung, the rediscovery of alchemy became a potent ground of psychological symbolism as alchemist projected their inner psychic contents to matter and their transformational practices concerning it.

This Nigredo that was the “black work” of alchemists represented a critical involvement experienced by the ego until it accepts the newly formed equilibrium brought by the creation of the Self.

The Nigredo phase is followed by deep emotions. James Hillman says that the pace of the Nigredo phase is “slow, repetitive, difficult, desiccating, severe, astringent, effortful, coagulating, and/or pulverizing. All the while, the worker enters a Nigredo state: depressed, confused, constricted, anguished, and subject to pessimistic, even paranoid, thoughts of sickness, failure, and death.”

To learn more about this stage be sure to check out the video:

Nigredo Stage: Shadow Work, from the HermesHub YouTube channel.