This third stage, citrinitas, is particularly difficult to grasp. More often that not, attempts to use an alchemical model for psychotherapy limit themselves to just three stages. Jung and his student, Marie-Louise von Franz do include citrinitas in their discussions of alchemy, but noted that it was a fourth and final stage, that of becoming gold. With that said, Jung’s and Jungian focus still limited . I will stick with the idea that citrinitas is the third stage in the process as that is what makes sense to me.
The idea of turning base material into gold is an idea that seems more magical than real. And, it is the magical that emerges during this stage. One is led to think of a magician such as Merlin, or even Christ. Both somehow defied all logic and nature to accomplish magical deeds. But where does this fit in with psychological process in therapy?
I want to step back just a little to place this stage in context using symbolism. In the first stage, nigredo,, light was lost as the psyche descended into the inner world of the unconscious where all the negative and fearful aspects of self have been contained as if in some personal hell. In the second stage, albedo, a light appears in the darkness, the light of an awakened soul which is symbolised as a moon (the feminine) shining in the darkness. The third stage, citrinitas, brings forth the light of the sun (the masculine), a light which magically transforms the shadowy and fearful into valuable consciousness. It is as though one has achieved the treasure grace à Dieu, through the Grace of God.
In this stage, awareness deepens. The problem yet remains how to assimilate this in order to return to the balance of being an ordinary human living an ordinary life? The objective of any therapy is to allow each of us to become at one with ourselves so that we can be fully present in our outer world as well as in our inner world. The objective of therapy is not to turn us into mystical and magical beings that don’t belong to the world. Assimilating bits of the unconscious aspects of ourselves is a huge task that sometimes falls off the rails, especially when we meet with the awe that comes with discovering the gold within ourselves.
“One is inclined to think that ego-consciousness is capable of assimilating the unconscious, at least one hopes that such a solution is possible. But unfortunately the unconscious really is unconscious; in other words, it is unknown. And how can you assimilate something unknown?” (Jung, CW 9i, para. 520)
The bits of gold we discover are just that bits. The depths of our psyche reach deeper beyond the boundaries of our personal self. Yet the discovery of these bits does lead to wonder and joy, even ecstasy. There is danger here for us, a danger that we will become so entranced of this ecstasy that we refuse to leave this stage.as it feels like perfection, we feel like perfect beings in a perfect bubble.
“One hopes to control the unconscious, but the past masters in the art of self-control, the yogis, attain perfection in samādhi, a state of ecstasy, which so far as we know is equivalent to a state of unconsciousness. It makes no difference whether they call our unconscious a “universal consciousness”; the fact remains that in their case the unconscious has swallowed up ego-consciousness.” (Jung, CW 9i, para. 520)
There is work yet to be done, to bring this gold back to the world, back in the form of a more mature and aware self.