You incarnate in Malkut, the world of physical experience. Here you go through the first stage of spiritual alchemy, called Putrifactio, where you take on the unconscious patterns and influences that lead you into the darkness of identification with the outer world, including the delusions of separation, isolation, and concealment.
Actually, you go through all four stages of spiritual alchemy in Malkuth, for that is its essential purpose. You are not here to change the world, but to be changed by it in two ways. First, the world changes you by submerging your consciousness into identification with the illusions of the material kingdom. But as you emerge from the pressure and the plights of this change, returning to awareness of your real spiritual being, you are changed once again: your spiritual awareness strengthens, brightens, intensifies, solidifies. Those who achieve this spiritual growth while living in the world become world-changers, though not necessarily social activists: their enlightened influence infuses with Malkut and uplifts the state of the physical universe. This change transmutes the entire universe, bringing it closer to the fulfillment of its heavenly potential. On the way, however, as you shall see, there appears to be more darkness than light.
Spiritual alchemy has to do with the spiritual growth and enlightenment process symbolized by the ancient alchemical process concerned with turning lead, a base metal, into gold, a precious one. The four basic stages involved in this process mirror the four basic stages of the spiritual transmutation of consciousness, the process of transforming the low level of consciousness that identifies with the dark light of illusion and the experience of victimhood that creates, with awakened consciousness that brings the experience of true liberation. The Kabbalah Tree of Life represents these four stages through the arrangement of the four spiritual worlds on the Tree.
The lowest world is called Assiah, which means To Make. It occupies the 10th sphere on the Tree, Malkut, which means Kingdom, representing the physical universe (the kingdom ruled by God and human beings) and the level of consciousness identified with the physical universe as the only reality.
Malkut is the world of infinite possibility. Anything can happen here. Human beings have the freedom to determine much of what occurs here through the use of our free will. As we awaken to higher levels of consciousness, we turn our free will over to the will of God, and become willing co-creators with God. This occurs as our consciousness ascends through the spiritual alchemical process. Our primary aim becomes more and more that of bringing into the world higher spiritual influence rather than manifesting or accomplishing anything in particular for ourselves. We become more and more like clear mirrors of the divine. That fulfills the purpose of our lives.
In alchemy, the first stage, putrificatio, is the formation of the base material. This symbolizes what happens to each one of us upon entry into the world through physical birth. Our pure state of heavenly consciousness darkens as it becomes programmed by the influences of the unconsciousness surrounding and interacting with us. We gradually lose our trust and our innocence is replaced by selfishness. We plunge into spiritual confusion causing us to ignore the influence of spiritual law upon us until we become numb and blind to that influence. Then we lie, steal and harm in a big way.
We take on more and more darkness, losing our way (while believing we are on our way). If we are fortunate enough to find (or earn, or recognize) one more advanced in the spiritual alchemical process, that one may give us the key to help us out of our suffering, suffering that snowballs until we awaken to how we are causing suffering through our choices. That individual may deliver the key on a conscious or subconscious level. He may directly instruct us: “Pay closer attention to your experience. This sends light into the darkness. You will gradually see how you create what happens to you, which sets ou free.” Or he may simply model that way for us, and we may pick it up through a sort of osmosis. The influence may come directly from the spiritual world. However that influence gets delivered, if you are open enough to the truth, it will stir you into upward movement.
The problem with the more popular metaphysical teachings about manifestation is that they delude their followers into believing that they can manifest an earthly condition that supports their ego, makes them finally feel good about themselves, gives them all that they desire. The reality is that nothing brings true inner contentment but spiritual growth, and the way is not easy. As Isidore Friedman used to say, the most common error we make is to attempt to leap from the stage of putrification right into regeneration. Regeneration is the highest stage of spiritual alchemy, when you are literally “born anew” because your individualized identity has been shattered. You function with an entirely new set of values, or no values, because all is good. All is one. You are a pure transciever of the spiritual influences you receive from above.
Receptivity is one of the essential aspects of Malkut. Our real purpose in the world is to function as spiritual transceivers, as Isidore Friedman used to call it. A spiritually enlightened transceiver receives the influences from above and transmits them into the world. During the stage of putrification, your unconscious attachments block your receptivity to the higher worlds. You transceive the influences of the worlds below the humane (the “e” is intentional). Even the beautiful influence of animal innocence and grandeur is higher than you can register. As Isidore Friedman put it, you are enslaved by the urges of the bed, the belly and running around. You function as a channel for selfishness, greed, fear, wild aggression, hate, ignorance and lust for violence (pandered to by TV)… until you hit bottom. Some may remain “bottom dwellers”. Some bounce.
But the bounce hurts, and this is what those popular metaphysical teachings about life’s secret leave out: purgatorio. In purgatorio you confront the dark, bestial nature of evil, unconscious appetites, and you have to watch yourself give into them. You cannot just “think positive”. You have to think angry, hateful, fearful thoughts. Your beliefs are out of your control. You do what you know is wrong over and over and over again. You see yourself dragging yourself through the mud. And you have to endure yourself going through defeat and disappointment at the deepest levels. This may not sound like fun, but it really is, when you know what is happening. Joseph Campbel addressed it in Myths To Live By. Your adversities become your adventure. Life calls upon your potential and desire for heroism, your Olympian roots! You have to be your own champion.
During this stage you are purging. As Vitvan used to say, when you become conscious of a previously hidden influence within you, it is on its way out. The discipline required here is once again to watch. As Isadore Friedman used to say, “Your luck is in your look. Good look!” One difference between watching in this stage and in the one prior, is that you actually begin to SEE, and what you see is not always pretty, but sometimes profoundly ugly. Isadore Friedman used to advise his students who wanted to find a way out of addiction: “Just observe how you feel before, during and after the indulgence.” Awareness sets you free, but first you have to really feel the rub of your chains. Why do people resist this all-important stage so much? Because they have to face what Jung called their shadow. You see the evil world working through you. It can be terrifying. You see the very ugliest of evil possibilities parading gruesomely before your mind’s weary eye during your many, many sleepless nights.
We can see the spiritual alchemical process working out in the world at large today. The extreme levels of corruption that are becoming evident is part of the expurgation stage. We are witnessing the horrors of global warming, wars based on greed, using schools and prestigious looking news channels as propaganda factories that we have all been contributing to, and that we are all fearing the loss of. The world is being plundered as the many cling to the status quo. There is nothing new in that. It is all just getting very clear. That signals a change is coming; a rise in consciousness always brings a change.
That change is not instant and lasting joy. It involves courageously, relentlessly confronting the inner world that we have been creating for ourselves in our unconsciousness throughout our putrification stage. The stage of purgatorio is represented on the Tree by spheres 7, 8 and 9, occupied by the spiritual world of Yetzirah, which means Formation. Yetzirah is the inner world of thoughts and feelings which must become conscious for us to find the freedom we so deeply desire. We find angelic influences here leading us through invisible iinner promptings that help us to advance.
Sphere 9 is called Yesod, which means Foundation. Here we face the lies (that we tell ourselves) that we have been counting on for our support in life. Sphere 8 is called Hod, which means Glory. Here we have to go through our deep-seated feelings of shame, humiliation, guilt, regret, and worthlessness fed through years of counting on outer world appearances to bolster or self-worth. All it takes is a broken romance to get a taste of this. Individuals who go through financial ruin and the sense of lost honor that brings may be so overwhelmed by this form of suffering that they choose suicide. Sphere 7 is named Netzach, which means Victory. Here one must go through seemingly endless defeat, to face all of the self-defeating emotions and mindsets that lurk within the unconscious.
As you go through the process of expurgation, you gradually learn to count on the truth, to release yourself from identification with dishonored identities, and from self-defeating emotions and mindset. As this occurs, the light of truth, pure honor, and victorious confidence shine through you and into the world. In other words, you rise into the stage of purification.
This stage is represented on the Tree by spheres 4, 5 and 6. The spiritual world occupying this area of the Tree is called Briah, which means Creation. Here, you begin directing your life as a conscious co-creator with the higher spiritual influences. You make “right choices” that advance you, and the world with you, in the spiritual alchemical process.
Sphere 6 is named Tiphareth, which means Beauty. Your inner sense (innocence) of beauty, balance and harmony guide you more and more during this stage. You still have to face the traces of unconscious delusion that remain, but they have less and less power of you. You are by this time oriented to the inner world of conscious creation, meaning that you see how you are creating the experiences that you are conscious of having. Sphere 5 is named Geburah, which means Severity. Sphere 4 is named Chessed, which means Loving-Kindness. At this stage of the spiritual alchemical process you employ these two forces in right balance, more and more: you accept the suffering necessary to free you from the cause of it, and you experience and share more and more of the influence of grace in your life as a result.
Each of the stages can last a long time, but the average seems to be about 21 years to get through purgatorio. Purificatio then dawns. As wonderful as this stage is, though, it is no picnic – at least not all the time. You continue to move in and out of purgatorio, though even the darkness at this stage is lighter and brighter than any inner, spiritual light you experienced previously.
The fourth and final stage in the spiritual alchemical process, regeneratio, is portrayed on the Tree through spheres 1,2, and 3. The spiritual world represented by these spheres is called Atziluth, which means Emanation; it refers to the pure emanation of divine light. Sphere 3 is called Chockmah, which means Wisdom. Sphere 2 is called Binah, which means Understanding. Sphere 1 is called Kether, which means Crown. Kether represents the pure essence of Divine Will. As has been said, entering this stage merges you with the Divine. Your wisdom and understanding and will belong to God.