Explore the Symbols of Dissolution
After experiencing the desiccation of calcination, the second step of alchemy’s seven operations feels contrastingly unmoored. Feeling lost at sea, tossed up and down in waves of emotion, or dissolving in tears are common experiences. In this level, the alchemist melts even bone, the symbol of the incorruptible. Ultimately the goal is complete unity with the Divine, overflowing with unconditional love, or feeling at one with everything. But more often the tides sweep us away without rudder or raft: lost, alone, adrift. In Tarot and Alchemy: Dissolution, we’ll explore the second alchemical operation’s symbols:
- the planet Jupiter
- the metal tin
- the sign of Pisces
- the tarot cards from the 7 x 3 table: the High Priestess, the Hermit, and the Tower
In this post, we’ll explore the symbolism of alchemy’s second operation, dissolution, to better understand how to melt away the crusty crystallizations of your most stubborn self on your way to your ultimate transformation.
Many of the following sections offer questions to guide you in your own alchemical process. You can think about these topics, journal your answers, and/or meditate on how they can help you achieve your goals. Of course, the best way to use these questions is to pull a tarot card for each one!
Please join us via Zoom on the first Saturday of the month in 2023 for Tarot and the Seven Stages of Alchemy at the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Check Joy Vernon Astrology * Tarot * Reiki on YouTube for recordings of select Tarot and Alchemy meetups.
The Alchemical Operation of Dissolution
Dissolution means to dissolve into liquid or to dissolve through the agency of liquid. Alchemists dissolve the ashes of calcination in a solvent.
The second step of the alchemical process is to take the remnants of the unredeemed matter and release even its bones. In a solution, two things become one, and the unredeemed matter melts into a boundless sea. Feelings associated with this stage include loss, drowning, complete loss of identity, nowhere to get your footing, swept up in an undesired current, complete loss of control.
The primary focus for dissolution is looking within. Within our own interior, drowned in the flood of our incorrigible subconscious, are the lost treasures we seek. We drain this standing water through our tears. And when the tide recedes, we find the gift of sunken fortune.
As the largest planet, Jupiter expands anything it comes in contact with. It increases both good and bad, opportunities and disabilities. But as advisor, teacher, and priest, Jupiter offers thoughtful counsel, spiritual guidance, and philosophical ideals.
Jove, another name for Jupiter, is wise, magnanimous, and good-humored – jovial. Astrologers call Jupiter the greater benefic, considering it to bring luck, ease, and generally to make things better. Jupiter brings growth, wealth, and success.
As seen from the earth, the Sun traces a particular path through the sky, called the ecliptic. Jupiter follows the ecliptic more closely than any other planet. This gives it the sense of light, truth, and leadership associated with the Sun. In fact, astrologers characterize Jupiter as the trusted counselor to the king, the Sun.
According to medical astrology, Jupiter rules the liver and blood. Some associate it with the skin as the largest organ of the body (although many give this body part to Saturn because it is the outermost, protective layer). On the downside, its generosity leads to overindulgence and obesity.
Jupiter (the Wheel of Fortune card) rules the zodiacal signs of Sagittarius (Temperance) and Pisces (The Moon), and is exalted in Cancer (The Chariot).
The symbols for Jupiter include the lightning bolt, sound of thunder, rain, oak tree, eagle, and scepter. Its color is blue and number is four.
Questions For Jupiter’s Role In Dissolution
- What overindulgence takes away time and focus from your objective?
- What is your current vision of victory?
- How can you ensure that your vision of success is proportional to your abilities and resources?
- Who can serve as your trusted advisor?
The metal tin, Sn for stannum, is shiny and silvery-white. You could say that it looks like an improved and perfected lead. In fact, the Romans called it “white lead.”
Tin occurs in the mineral cassiterite. Cassiterite has a tetragonal crystalline structure. While two of the crystal’s three axes are the same length, i.e., square, the third axis is longer than the other two. Interestingly, Jupiter’s number is four and its planar shape is the square. Veins of this mineral zigzag through the earth like Zeus’ lightning bolts. Elemental tin is rare in nature and often found with the precious metals gold and silver; suggesting its good nature and value. Tin combines well with other metals in alloys, most significantly bronze and pewter. It is also a component of solder, which adheres metals together. Its ability to blend with and support other metals parallels Jupiter’s role in benefiting the other planets.
In fact, the first metal alloyed with tin was copper, creating bronze. Venus, the goddess of love, also called the lesser benefic, rules copper. Bronze represents the union of the two benefic planets.
The metal tin resists weathering and doesn’t rust. However, pure tin can change form at temps below about 56 degrees Fahrenheit (13 C), developing a blistered look or turning to white dust. The diseased metal can then infect other tin surfaces and spread. Called “tin pest” or “tin leprosy,” it looks similar to skin diseases. Curiously, when ingested, tin concentrates primarily in the blood, liver, and skin, the bodily rulerships of Jupiter.
Like the roller coaster of emotions we experience in the dissolution phase, tin makes sounds from thunderous to melodic. In theatre and radio, sound effects artists use tin sheets to reproduce the thunder that Zeus commands. Tin has a crystalline structure that, when bent, snaps and creates a mesmerizing crackling cry (this lovely video has a sound track of tin cry and rain). A special form of bronze with a high concentration of tin creates melodic bells.
Questions For Tin’s Role In Calcination
- What (person, idea, thing, etc.) alloys with you and strengthens you on the way to your goals?
- When are you at your weakest? What happens to you then?
- What noise helps remind you that your bonds are breaking?
In the book and movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” the character of the Tin Man was looking for a heart. Dorothy found the Tin Man rusted in the woods (he must have had some steel in him!) and released him by applying oil to his joints.
Tin correlates with Jupiter, the traditional ruler of Pisces. Oil corresponds to Neptune, the modern ruler of Pisces. One attribution of Pisces is unconditional love.
The esoteric symbolism of the Tin Woodman is quite accurate!
Dissolution: Pisces in the Thema Mundi
Pisces, the final sign of the zodiac, represents complete dissolution. On the one hand, this “dis-illusion” can produce a sense of total loss of individuality in a sea of homogeneity. Swinging to the other extreme, spiritual immersion offers an experience of communion with the Divine.
As the end of the cycle, Pisces also prepares for the beginning. It is symbolic of gestation, inner or hidden growth, totally dependent on another being with no awareness of self. The gestating being will be born into Aries, symbolic of identity, in the next stage, separation.
Pisces highlights Jupiter’s spirituality. Placed here in one of the signs of his rulership, his role as priest comes to the forefront. You can connect with the deeply sacred Pisces energy through meditation, silence, stillness, and fasting. Emptying the self creates space for the spirit of the Divine to fill.
I explain how the Thema Mundi ideally works with Dennis William Hauck’s ordering of the planets to the seven stages of alchemy. Find out more at Thema Mundi and the Seven Stages of Alchemy.
Questions For The Role Of Pisces In Dissolution
- What are you secretly nurturing within you?
- What benefits can you gain from blending in?
- How can you deeply connect with others?
- How do you experience communion with the Divine?
Bain Marie Meditation
Soften and release hardened or crystallized problems through a melting visualization. This meditation helps to release thoughts, illnesses, unhelpful habits, negativity, and so on.
How to do the bain marie meditation:
- Breathe into the belly (hara or lower tanden) and feel it heat up (the lower pan of the double boiler).
- Then breathe into the heart center or middle tanden (center of chest; represents the upper pan).
- Add your troubles to the upper pan and let them melt away.
–from Sorcerer’s Stone: A Beginner’s Guide to Alchemy by Dennis William Hauck
Other Meditations and Practices
- Cibation – Using tears to dissolve stuck memories. Just as alchemists add fluid to dried matter to dissolve it, we can bring up a painful memory and release it by truly mourning it with a crying jag. (This practice is also from Hauck.)
- Practices and activities can include taking baths, swimming, soaking in a hot tub, spending time on or near the ocean (or water generally).
Two simple awareness practices I use:
- “Release” – When uncomfortable feelings, memories, etc. come up, I rest with them for a few moments, breathing into them, allowing them to be present, then silently say “release” and breathe out
- “Ebb and Flow” – When stressed by feelings of “too much” or “too little” (for instance, an uneven flow of clients), I simple think of the tides washing out and washing in while I silently repeat the phrase “ebb and flow” to myself.
Dissolution Tarot Cards
A variety of tarot cards relate to the dissolution stage of alchemy.
- Jupiter: Wheel of Fortune
- Pisces: Moon
- Dissolution is also associated with Cancer: The Chariot
- Robert Place: High Priestess is Dissolution; The Tower is the Greater Dissolution
As I meditate on various images of the Wheel of Fortune card, it starts to look like various ingredients being stirred together in a soup. I’m intrigued by the Robin Wood Wheel of Fortune, expressing the full cycle of human emotion; an appropriate reference to Jupiter, which can lead to extremes, but also to riding the waves of dissolution.
The Moon card has always felt primordial, gestational, lost in the doldrums, and some images even show tears; all symbols that match our dissolution stage. In the Illusion card from the Tarot of the Old Path, it seems as if one character embraces her dissolution while the other mourns the necessary sacrifice.
Meanwhile, the Chariot is always a conundrum. It many ways it shows the victorious birth out of the waters, which we might associate more with the next stage of separation and the sign of Aries. But with the seated chargers and cemented-in-place cart, combined with the crowning stars, we start to wonder if this car’s movement is not horizontal on the plane of the mundane, but instead vertical. Perhaps Ezekiel’s wheel descends from and returns to heaven like a cosmic yo-yo.
The Dissolution Portion of Solve et Coagula
You could say that as a three card spread, these express the philosophical dictum, solve et coagula: dissolve and coagulate. The Wheel of Fortune stirs us into solution, the Moon lets us float in suspension, and finally the Chariot returns us to form, but at a higher, more purified level. Together, these three cards speak of cycles, extremes, and journeys away from or into.
Dissolution in the Tarot and Alchemy Table: Second Column
The second column of the 7 x 3 Table features the High Priestess, the Hermit, and the Tower. Applying Oswald Wirth’s format of Subject – Action – Object, we see that the High Priestess is the subject who takes an action represented by the Hermit on the object of the Tower.
I imagine this level of the alchemical process as Neo awakening in the pod in the real world. Complete loss of your sense of reality, and yet on your way to finding what is truly real. We could say that the soul (High Priestess) sheds light on (Hermit) the ruins of reality (Tower).
Another dissolution symbol shows up on the Hermit card. The number nine, particularly in its handwritten, curving form marked on the card, looks like a fetus. I see the High Priestess as barren in contrast to the fertility of the Empress. Furthermore, the sense of not-yet-fertile is also suggested by the Golden Dawn attribution of Virgo the Virgin to the Hermit. But the lightning strike of the Mars-ruled Tower card symbolically represents insemination. Overall, this sequence reinforces the idea of gestation. Perhaps our sentence can be, “The empty (High Priestess) becomes full (Hermit) through Divine Will (Tower).”
Dissolution and Body, Spirit, Soul
Lastly, it’s useful to examine these cards in their aspects of Body, Spirit, and Soul. Although Wirth lays out his table with Spirit at the top row, many alchemists, including Robert Place, put Soul at the top. Without getting lost in the whys and wherefores, my choice is to place Soul in the top level. Accordingly, the Tower is the alchemical Body, the Hermit is the Spirit that connects above and below, and the High Priestess is appropriately the Soul, the spiritual self.
When the Body crumbles as a result of our previous alchemical stage of calcination, the Soul is unmoored, no longer connected. It seems that our Hermit must go out and search for the Soul, so that ultimately it can be not just reunited, but more consciously integrated once the body is purified and perfected.
Questions For The Dissolution Tarot Cards
- How do you use your quiet, your rest, your emptiness?
- What light will shine when the rocks split?
- What inspiration does the lightning zap bring?
Dissolution and The Rending of the Temple Veil
But dissolution is not only about the gestation that precedes birth. It swings to the other extreme: death.
At times, the veil behind the High Priestess represents the biblical veil of the temple. Looking at our sequence of cards, we easily hear verse 51 from chapter 27 of the gospel of Matthew: “At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split.” This is the description of the moment of Jesus’s death on the Cross. The veil of the temple is illustrated in Trump 2, while Trump 16 shows the rocks splitting. But how does Trump 9 fit in?
At first glance we perhaps see the light of truth released from its captivity in the material. But by tracing certain symbolism, we can take this much deeper. Wirth discusses the correlation between the Hermit and the planet Saturn: most significantly, the Hermit sometimes carries an hourglass. But as we unfold our tarot spread outlined above in the light of the Bible story, we notice an interesting word.
Forsaken, Alone, Driven Away
A few verses earlier, in Matthew 27:46, Jesus speaks Aramaic: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Curiously, “sabachthani” (the “have You forsaken Me” part of the verse) looks similar to “shabathai”, the word for Saturn. But do they have the same root?
Two things are interesting here. First, the word “sabachthani” (forsake) comes from the Aramaic word shebaq, which means to leave, quit, or let alone.
Meanwhile, the word “shabathai,” which is the word for Saturn, means to rest, related to “sabbath” but also meaning to cease or desist. These two words derive from the word for seven, or the seventh day, Saturn’s day. Saturn is associated with endings and also with exile, or to drive away or remove.
But secondly, Jesus was quoting the Psalms when he cried out on the cross. The word used in Psalm 22:2 is “azabtani” from azab, to leave, forsake, loose. In other contexts, azab means to restore or repair. Like the spinning of the Wheel of Fortune, this word has meanings that swing from negative to positive.
Where Do You Turn?
There is one word that seems to tie these together: the Hebrew verb shub, which shares letters or sounds with the above words. It means to turn back or return. It’s a common word and can simply be used to say that someone returned home for the night, or even that someone answered by returning a response. But it’s also a word that addresses both turning away from — or toward — God.
What direction will the Hermit go? In the illustrations above, he moves away from the alchemical Body, the Tower, and towards the Soul, the High Priestess. But during the flow of dissolution, the waves could carry him either toward or away. It’s even possible that he floats back and forth. It’s worth noting that he might not have a choice of direction. The dissolution process is one of being swept by the current. What if choice is removed? What if our intentions no longer count?
Perhaps what remains is faith, whose parent is the Sanctifying Intelligence, the third sephirah, Binah — an expression, like the Hermit, of Saturn.
No matter what current we are lost in, we know that Pisces is our spiritual home and Jupiter is the spiritual guide, the priest.
When we move from Saturnian to Jupiterian influences, from the break down of calcination to the melting of dissolution, the only thing we can do is trust that we will return to our spiritual home, whatever result that might produce on the physical plane.
Shub is also the word that describes water receding; the flood pulling back.
“My Heart Melts Away”
Returning to Psalm 22, after crying out out in despair of being abandoned, the narrator says:
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed. My heart is like wax; it melts away within me.Psalm 22:14
The context of this verse suggests that the melting heart is what we might term a broken heart. This experience is of overwhelming loss, rejection, absence. But in the idiom of our current day and age, when something melts your heart you are overcome with love, caring, and compassion. Again, we visit two wildly swinging extremes. Do you turn toward rejection? Do you turn toward compassion? Where does the current take you?
The psalm concludes:
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD.Psalm 22:27
It doesn’t matter where you drift, because everywhere — all the ends of the earth — will turn to, and return to, the source of all.
Tarot and Alchemy: Dissolution Video
This 1 hour 25 minute video explores the images, emblems, symbols, and tarot cards for the alchemical stage of dissolution.
What’s In Your Heart?
What has softened or melted for you? Help others understand the process by sharing your dissolution stories in the comments! Next month we move on to separation!