Principles of Collective Alchemy (if in Doubt…)

Witcher cauldron with color smoke for Halloween

Practicing Collective Alchemy over time—being in the deepening, leaning into the mystery—is all about navigating in uncharted territory. The territory of the intangible, the subtle, the not-yet-manifest potential waiting in the wings to be coaxed and loved into being… A territory that our conventional upbringing and conditioning in the material world has taught us does not exist.

Practicing in this dojo can be indescribably exhilarating at times. There are moments when we feel the magic of the mystery well up in the crucible and inside our bodies simultaneously, and know that a deep truth is present. At other times, it can feel bewildering, confusing, uncomfortable. It can feel intense. It can feel intensely uncomfortable. Although those of us who keep on showing up in this practice field have a strong sense of why we do so, there are always moments when the old familiar doubts creep in, and we might wonder if we are engaging in a futile exercise.

The principles we will be unpacking in this post were first articulated during the process of writing the ‘we-thesis’ that eventually birthed the Practice Guide that you can read on this website. Ever since, we have found ourselves turning to these principles to help us stay on track in our practice—particularly in those moments of deep unclarity and doubting. Which is why we prefix them with the subvocalised thought “when in doubt…”. As our journey continues, we keep surfacing further principles, and these are added as they emerge.

Some of these principles might seem irrelevant to the beginner or occasional practitioner. That is because, as is the case with any potent practice or discipline, Collective Alchemy moves into different spaces and considerations as a practitioner’s commitment to practice deepens. (See The Four Rooms for an unpacking of this).

Principles guide practice. In other words: practice the practice! Often, when we find ourselves floundering, it is because we have forgotten our practice and are engaging with each other and ourselves through our habitual patterns: not fully present, the ego-defense mechanisms can creep in and hijack the proceedings. Feelings of tension and stuckness can be a sign that we have fallen out of our practice in some way. The principles are here to guide us back to centre, to presence, to connection. This principle applies whenever we are engaged with any aspect of Collective Alchemy, be it participating in a hosted call or triad conversation, simmering in the alchemical juices of our own lives, preparing behind the scenes for a portal day, or hanging out in the alchemists’ Living Room.

Source from the present. Reality is a constantly shifting affair. Even though we might be ‘on a journey’ with ‘a(n aspired-to) destination’, where we are at in this moment is always in this moment. When something is unclear, uncomfortable, or difficult, it is wise to stop, to sink in to Self and sense into what is present, together. There is rarely any need for urgent action. Often what is present translates into “not right timing for action!” Sometimes what comes up is somebody’s pain. While it might seem tangential to whatever the inquiry is ‘supposed’ to be about, if that is what’s present, that is what is asking to be acknowledged. Chances are, it is present because it needs to be cleared in order for collective insight to come through.

Abet don’t reduce. ‘Abet’ means to actively second and encourage something. In the practice of Collective Alchemy (whether you are in a circle with others at the time, or alone) it means embracing and merging with the energy of what is arising—even when it feels unpleasant! To quote Catherine MacCoun*: “When an emotion or situation moves towards an unpleasant extreme, we try to mitigate it, so as to achieve both the feeling and appearance of balance. Alchemically, though, phenomena are most amenable to change when in a volatile state. Inner upheavals are signs you’re getting somewhere. The alchemist’s strategy is to abet rather than to abate. You push any process further in the direction it’s already trying to go. Balance is eventually reestablished when the process comes to its own conclusion.

Host the process. Working with intention cannot be a random or slapdash affair. Because Collective Alchemy is, well, collective, it is necessary to employ skillful means to foster the conditions that allow a collective to emerge out of the collection of individuals that steps into the practice space at the beginning of a session. This means that every conversation must be prepared, designed and hosted. It turns out that ‘it takes a field to host a field’, so this preparation, design and hosting must also be done collectively— even the preparation meetings require preparation, design and hosting! The process is fractal, recurring at every level of scale. This means that if you want to deepen your practice of Collective Alchemy by entering Room 3 (stepping in to co-sense and co-host a portal wave or inquiry stream), you will find yourself learning not only more about the intricacies of alchemical practice, but also about the art of hosting conversations that matter.

Work with the gifts of the people in the circle. Although it felt very much as if Collective Alchemy crept out of the unmanifest space of potential and tapped us on the shoulder, there can be no doubt that the way it manifests in practice is shaped by the gifts of the practitioners. That means that over time, the practice will morph and complexify as more practitioners add their unique gifts and capacities into the mix. Please read this as an invitation to step forward and offer your gifts—whatever they are—to the collective field.

Make the implicit explicit. This is a tricky principle to work with, because it seems that there are times when the mystery is better left unrevealed. However, when it comes to working with our own prima materia, the best medicine is to place it in the crucible, which is done by shining the light of consciousness on it; owning it; speaking it into the centre of the circle. This implies a willingness to step through the veil of vulnerability. Which, in turn, requires trust; which is built over time. We can abet the trust-building process and at the same time help each other to retrieve lost parts of ourselves from the shadows, and to disabuse ourselves of blighting assumptions and misconceptions, by asking each other (gentle but probing) questions. This is yet another form of abetting.

As simple as possible and no simpler. Sometimes we get stuck because we over-complicate the complex. So it is with alchemical procedures. This principle helps us to continually question our urge to improve things by adding that extra ingredient into the mix.

Keep it close. This is the only principle that we have added since the Practice Guide was published. Basically, one way or another, information—no matter how subtle—comes to us through the body. This principle is guiding us in the pitching and formulation of questions for our inquiries. Even when there is a vast overarching question guiding an inquiry, the question we take into the silence with us as we enter circle together needs to be sufficiently close to our own lived experience in order for the body to resonate and react or respond.

Track the loops and close them when they’re done. It sometimes happens that an inquiry, interaction or intervention is initiated and then interrupted or left in suspension because the attention shifts to something else. Open loops bleed energy unproductively. There are always tell-tale signals in the body or awareness of someone in the circle that indicate the presence unfinished business that needs to be attended to. A feeling of incompletion, discomfort, suspension. Loops should be opened with consciousness and explicitly and carefully tracked until they can be closed.

Every contribution is an element of the whole. When work becomes truly collective, something shifts in the balance between the individuals participating in the circle and what is in the centre. The focus moves from acknowledging the individual contributions of individuals (“So-and-so was the one who voiced that particular insight”) to simply holding and accommodating every freshly voiced sensing from and to the centre, regardless of which body it was sourced through. There is a flavour of radical equality in this principle which does away with subtle hierarchy of depth, seniority, etc.

The inner frequency of each alchemist determines the quality of the crucible. Before a practitioner enters to the alchemical kitchen, (s)he dons the alchemist’s (fireproof) gown and clothes her/himself in curiosity, appreciation, heartfulness—and all manner of high-frequency inner states—and steps into the shoes of purpose. Our time together is precious, so we are invited to enter the circle already warmed up and prepared.

A word of warning around principles!

Slavish adherence to principles is a trap—they must be held lightly, and sometimes they need to be dropped altogether in order for the practice to stay fresh and connected with the Mystery. If I were to choose a single (un)principle to cleave to, it would be ‘source from the present’, for that, simply, is where Mystery resides.

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