The alchemists had hundreds of different types of vessels, of various shapes and sizes, able to contain, heat, and transmute the material in subtle ways, working with the Divine to reveal golden-nature.
We find this metaphor of gold-making throughout the alchemical tradition. The nature of just what this gold is, however, is part of the mystery. Is it ordinary gold? Soul gold? Or the gold of Sophia, the feminine wisdom-principle?
The vessel had all sorts of strange names, chambers, and portals, with nuanced ways that air and heat (awareness) flowed through. There was the pelican and double-pelican, reflux condenser, retort and double retort.
They had a very refined perception that not all vessels are the same and that each catalyzes a unique flavor or fragrance of transmutation on the way to the ever elusive philosopher’s stone.
Finding the appropriate vessel and applying the proper heat was essential for the alchemists, as well as ourselves. Whether a vessel of safety, essential for tending to trauma; or a structure-building container, required for narcissistic or borderline organization; or a retort designed for uncovering unconscious shadow and lost soul-pieces; or a more transpersonal vessel, crafted for a radical transformation in identity and perception.
Spirituality and healing are not one size fits all ventures. There is no one right vessel, or approach; the sensitivities of the soul and the subtleties of the heart, it’s just too mysterious for all that.
If we start to see the various therapies and spiritualities as different types of vessels, containing and illuminating experience in nuanced ways, the goal isn’t to fit them all together or to integrate them all into one homogenized thing, but to honor the differences, and to start to attune in deeper ways to what particular vessel is most skillful and compassionate for us in a given moment.
Just like the alchemists, we can have the material heating up in one way, in one particular vessel on one day, only to shift it to another on the next; this is the art of alchemical work, cultivating that sort of sensitivity and discernment.