In alchemy, albedo is one of the four major stages of the magnum opus, following nigredo, and before citrinitas and rubedo. It is a Latinicized term meaning “whiteness”. Following the chaos or massa confusa of the nigredo stage, the alchemist undertakes a purification in albedo, which is literally referred to as ablutio – the washing away of impurities. In this process, the subject is divided into two opposing principles to be later coagulated to form a unity of opposites or coincidentia oppositorum during rubedo.
Titus Burckhardt interprets the albedo as the end of the lesser work, corresponding to a spiritualization of the body. The goal of this portion of the process is to regain the original purity and receptivity of the soul. Psychologist Carl Jung equated the albedo with unconscious contrasexual soul images; the anima in men and animus in women. It is a phase where insight into shadow projections are realized, and inflated ego and unneeded conceptualizations are removed from the psyche.
This exploration starts by examining and reflecting on our conscious beliefs, values, desires and ideology, the ones we profess to hold and expound to those we know. If we have really examined our conscious position, we then have an anchoring point for our descent into the unconscious psyche. This is critical for two reasons. One is the innate survival instict of he conscious self, the seat of ego. The second is the chaotic power of he subconscious wich can easily leave the ego threatened. Only when the consciousness truly knows itself will the ego be open to absorbing the insight and ideas retrieved from he depths of he subconscious. Since what is brought back is often radically challenging that anchor provides the stability to confront it and find acceptance. This is necessary in order to initiate a dialogue that brings the conscious and unconscious psyche into a state of synthesis. This brings to the conscious an greater mastery of purpose, enhanced imagination and creativity and improved emotional stability. It heals emotional wounds in the unconscious and redirects those hidden subconscious desires that seem to sabotage so much human endeavor toward a higher level of action.
Now you begin to see that the albedo sage of he magnum opus is in many ways more challenging than he nigredo. Here the psychological alchemist is doing the delicate and complicated work of translating between two entities in order to build a bridge between the two.. The unconscious’ dominant form of communication is symbols. Language (semantics) is the medium of consciousness. The alchemist is charged to translate the symbolic forms of the unconscious into the language of consciousness. During albedo one works on accessing, identifying, and understanding the key symbols of the unconscious. How does the alchemist do this? The one place we easily access the subconscious is in our dreams. In the depths of our dreams the subconscious relates all manner of things to us, revealing it’s secrets, but most people are deaf to this monlogue. The alchemist listens and learns to understand. This is one of the reasons alchemy is saturated with symbolism.
There are many symbols in alchemy for the albedo itself: the white swan, the rose, the white queen, and so on. As lead is the metal of nigredo, silver is the metal of albedo, transmuted from lead. Alchemists also talk about the white stone or white tincture. And since silver is the metal of the moon, the moon was also a symbol for the albedo stage. The moon is also thought to be symbolic of the subconscious, that place of reflected light we explore by night in our dreams. But in fact it represents the threshold, it connects to both the subconscious or past and the conscious or present. The nature of the subconscious is to be literally ‘beneath consciousness’, and under the radar of our self-awareness. The Moon potently symbolizes the albedo stage, the place where we can discover the orgins of our subconsciously-motivated thoughts, actions and words.