Alchemical Yellowing And Psychotherapy
Can we not draw a lesson from history? If the practice of Jungian psychology continues the alchemical tradition, then we too - unless we are fully yellow - simply repeat its fate, falling prey to either physical scientism, spiritual esotericism, or the business of professionalism as princes of this world - or all three mixed. - Hillman (2010) p224
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Said the caterpillar to the butterfly "You'll never catch me up in one of those things".




"Can we not draw a lesson from history? If the practice of Jungian psychology continues the alchemical tradition, then we too - unless we are fully yellow - simply repeat its fate, falling prey to either physical scientism, spiritual esotericism, or the business of professionalism as princes of this world - or all three mixed." Hillman (2010) p224


The Four Stages of Alchemy 

We are not yellow because the Citrinitas, or Yellowing, stage of alchemical transformation has been omitted from our psychology.  Jungian psychology, and by extension many of our depth and transpersonal psychologies, are founded upon, if not strongly influenced by, Jung's researches into alchemy.  Any psychotherapeutic school that includes the use of transference and counter-transference within it's theories, needs to pay attention to this omission.  Furthermore, given how widely Jung's theory of Individuation is accepted, the omission of yellowing has a significant impact on all of Western psychology, and profound implications for the understanding of psychological transformation.

Jung, himself actually pointed out this omission. 

"Four stages [of the alchemical] opus are distinguished, characterised by the original colours mentioned in Heraclitus: melanosis (blackening), leukosis (whitening), xanthosis (yellowing), and iosis (reddening)...  Later about the fifteenth or 16th Century, the colours were reduced to three, and the xanthosis, otherwise called the citrinitas, gradually fell into disuse or was seldom mentioned...  There were only three colours: black, white, and red.
The first main goal of the process...  highly prized by many alchemists...  is the silver or moon condition, which still has to be raised to the sun condition.  The albedo [whitening], is so to speak, the daybreak, but not till the rubedo [reddening] is it sunrise.  The transition to the rubedo is formed by the citrinitas [yellowing], though this, as we said, was omitted later.” [Jung (1953) CW12 para 333-4]






Alchemical Stage






Inky Man

White Rose (?)

Eagle flying to Sun

Golden Lion







Jung had previously remarked, in 1952, "But in this state of 'whiteness' one does not live in the true sense of the word, it is a sort of abstract, ideal state.  In order to make it come alive it must have 'blood', it must have what the alchemists call the rubedo, the 'redness' of life." [McGuire and Hull (1980) Jung Speaking p222]  Staggeringly, despite these comments, Jung did nothing to re-introduce or rectify the omission of the citrinitas or yellowing.

Hillman berates modern day analysts for perpetuating this omission, believing they prefer to rest in their silvery peace, the first stage achieved, resistant to the.......  "substantiation [the yellowing] for it feels like a regression to the vulgar drivenness of earlier moments in the work - materia prima and nigredo - which the arduous hours of analytic reflection have finally sophisticated and pacified.” [Hillman (2010) p212].  Maybe the same was true of sixteenth century alchemists, maybe they were lazy and scared, preferring to rest in silvery peace.

In effect, without the yellow third stage, all attempts to reach the final fourth red stage, result in a false or hollow outcome, which is nothing more than a return to the second, whitening stage.  The move from white to red, without going through the yellowing, Hillman describes as, red bricks without straw.




  Woodcut 10. The New Birth: Rebis                  Woodcut 17.The Demonstration of Perfection.   

The Rosarium Philosophorum is a series of twenty woodcut images that illustrate the whole alchemical process.  The end of the whitening and yellowing phases both show a re-born Hermaphrodite figure but in different states.  Differences include the Yellowed Hermaphrodite being clothed, with bat, or dragon like wings compared to the feathered wings of the Whitened Hermaphrodite.  To the left, in both pictures, the plant in full fruit, depicts the completion of the Whitening and Yellowing processes respectively.  The animals in the Yellowed Hermaphrodite picture definitely point to forthcoming processes, as also may the Raven, albeit a different process.  Most notable though, is how the Whitened hermaphrodite is floating above the ground on the moon, whereas the Yellowed Hermaphrodite stands firmly upon the ground (not the Sun).  The Whitened Hermaphrodite floats and is insubstantial, whereas, the combination of the Lunar and Solar processes results in the Yellowed Hermaphrodite being Earthed, or grounded, in touch with it's senses, embodied and part of the material world; not separate. (For a deeper analysis of these pictures see - The Twenty Woodcuts of the Rosarium Philosophorum and their implications for Psychotherapy. Tomkins (2012))


The perpetuation of this omission from our psychology means we live in an abstracted, idealistic world, that lacks - blood, body and passion.  At best, we live as individuals stuck in endless psychologised peace, ignorant of the fuller psychological life we are missing.  Our world, or at least the Western world, displays all the hallmarks of the missing yellowing, leaving us endlessly stuck in the white phase.  The whitening phase is ruled by the moon and as such is reflective, in that it does not have its own light.  The maturation of the whitening happens via reflection and is often described as mirroring.  The reflective processes, of thinking and feeling, dominate the direct experiences of intuition, sensation and imagination.  Knowledge is King, and Mystery is banished by the whitening ego's searchlight.  Perfection is idealised, and imperfection seen as weakness.  Lacking true wisdom, we are children in adult's bodies.  Our leaders lack the vision to see the real problems, and the guts to really change things.  We give up our personal authority and lay it on the altar of democracy, and impose our beliefs on other cultures, when our own is riddled with crimes against the soul.  We measure success in terms of economic growth, rather than human well being.  Material greed, trumps environmental necessity.  Work has become so specialised, mechanised, digitalised, that it leaves us with a sense of alienation, and no meaningful or purposeful place in the world.  All moves to a more embodied life are subverted by the whitened ego.  Feminism has become a fight for equal rights for women, rather than a transforming force to change this patriarchal society, that oppresses both women, and men.  There are many more examples, and there are probably many other 'isms out , that can account for our soulless society, but few, if any, unlike alchemy, show us a way through. 



Alchemy and Psychological Transformation 

Hillman, eloquently and succinctly describes the first three (of the four) stages of alchemy...

In sum : during nigredo there is pain and ignorance; we suffer without the help of knowledge.  During albedo the pain lifts, having been blessed by reflection and understanding.  The yellow brings the pain of knowledge itself.  The soul suffers its own understanding.” Hillman (2010) p215

The alchemical stages, can to some extent be seen, as the ego's transformation, through a series of encounters and unifications, with the four archetypes; shadow (blackening), animus (whitening), anima (yellowing) and Self (reddening).  This perspective is at variance with traditional Jungian theory, in that the individual is seen to have both an animus and an anima. rather than one or the other, depending on their gender.  The animus is the individual, or personal, representation of spirit; and anima is the individual, or personal representation of matter.  Animus demands separation and distance, whereas anima demands relationship and proximity, or even, immersion.  If either pole of these opposing forces is denied or collapses, we are left with a monotheistic consciousness, i.e.  with ego consciousness.  When identified with animus, we relate "to" or "with" others, and there is a definite sense of "I".  Alternatively, when identified with anima, we are "in" anima, there is no distinct "I", more of an unconscious, or undifferentiated, "we".

During the blackening or nigredo, blissful innocence and ignorance are lost.  The fall comes as a shock to the individual, as they gradually become aware of their ego, or shadow. The ego becomes aware that it is only a part and not all, and that other (darker) forces are at work; forces that it once banished in order to establish itself.  In the albedo, or whitening, the animus employs the reflective psychological functions of thinking and feeling to raise, distance and separate the ego, from what it cannot bear.  The animus, to further it's own ends and achieve greater independence, educates the ego in how to master and dominate those darker forces.  This move, vertically upwards, brings perspective and detachment.  This is a necessary psychological development, allowing the individual to separate from Mother/Matter, and function as a separate entity in the world.  The psychological problems of this stage are generally neurotic, in that they are to do with how we deal with this transition. 

In order to move from the white to the yellow,  the whitened ego, with it's drive for separation and objectification, needs to lose its habitual way of experiencing the world.  The ego needs to recognise that it no longer has a problem, it is the problem.  From within, the yellowing anima, undermines the whitened ego's position, confronting it with it's own existential limitations, and an acceptance of it's dependence and attachments.  The yellowing is less visible, less apparent, than the whitening.  We are in it, it is in us, rather than us looking at it from a distance.  There is no distance, just imminence, presence, a materiality, a gravitas and depth.  The yellowing brings an emphasis on the body, and the psychological function of sensation is brought to the fore.  This sensitivity also heightens the psychological function of the intuition.  Sensation and intuition, are direct unmediated experience, there is no judgement or valuation of what is experienced, it just is.  The yellowing, by reducing the whitened ego's grip on experience, allows more room for the true imagination to emerge.  This shift in emphasis, away from the reflective functions of thinking and feeling, brings a profound confrontation with, and ultimately an acceptance of, existential reality; and consequently the psychological problems of yellowing, are of an existential nature. 

In the rubedo, or reddening, the resultant and ongoing syzygy of animus and anima, operating through the whitened and then yellowed ego, brings a unity to the psyche, which manifests in the world, as the individual's, ever evolving, unique personality or character.


In terms of the Yin Yang symbol



We start off lost in matter, in ignorance and darkness - the Nigredo, the small dark yin circle.  In the Whitening, as the ego develops, bringing light and illumination to escape and exert power over this darkness, we move to the large white yang area encompassing the yin circle doing everything to fight off a regression into this darkness.  The move to Yellowing is a paradigm shift wherein we choose to accept darkness and not knowing, allowing ourselves to be with what is.  Here we occupy the large black yin area to the right in the diagram.  Only through truly being in the large yin are we do we encounter the yang circle within, or more precisely it encounters us.  The emphasis shifts from a will characterised by "power over" to a will from within or below, that finds us through our being as if there is no choice on our part.

Alchemy does require that the yellow follows the white; just as cheese follows milk. However, all stages include elements of the others (and themselves), in that all transformations are a cycle within themselves, incorporating a death, a conception and a birth.  Attempts at trying to determine, and pinpoint the exact stage of the process achieved, are fraught with difficulties, given the cycles within cycles, and the sometimes apparently regressive progress.  Alchemy is not a concise science, and as an analytic and predictive tool, it is rightfully and thankfully given the material being worked, a blunt instrument.  The table below, showing correspondences between the alchemical stages and other models or perspectives, is therefore meant as a guide, and is in no way meant to be definitive.


Alchemical Phase

Nigredo/ Blackening. Materia Prima

Albedo/ Whitening

Citrinitas/ Yellowing

Rubedo/ Reddening

Psychological Stage




Transpersonal/ Spiritual

Influencing Archetype










Basic Peri-Natal Matrices (Grof)

BPM 1 - Oceanic womb

BPM 2 - Constricting Womb, no exit, initiation of birth process.

BPM 3 - Co-operative birthing

BPM 4 - Birth, separation, liberation


Yin (in Yang)

Yang around Yin

Yin (around Yang)

Yang (in Yin)


Who are they?

Who am I?

Who are you?

Who are Thou?






Cause of Suffering






Behavioural/ CBT / NLP/ 12 Step

Freudian/ Transactional Analysis/ Psychodynamic

Humanistic e.g.  Person Centred/ Gestalt/ Core Process?/ Focussing?/ Inter-subjective

Transpersonal and Spiritual Therapies e.g (Psychosynthesis)/ Art Therapy



"I speak to affirm we are the same""

"I don't speak as I don't dare."

"I speak because I don't dare to remain silent."

"I speak in order to hear what I have to say."




The Experience of Yellowing 

The omission of the citrinitas stage from alchemy, some 500 years ago, means there is a paucity of modern literature addressing the experience of yellowing.  Consequently most writing arises indirectly from commentaries on surviving series of illustrations designed to portray the alchemical process; Johannes Fabricius's book "Alchemy: The Medieval Alchemists and their Royal Art" being a fine example.  Jung, in his seminal work - The Psychology of the Transference, used the Rosarium Philosophorum series of woodcut prints to inform and illustrate the psychotherapeutic process of Transference and Counter-Transference.  Ever since, The Rosarium Philosophorum images, have probably been the most frequently used series of alchemical images employed by psychotherapists to illustrate their writing on psychological transformation.  However, Nathan Salant-Schwartz in his book "The Mystery of Human Relationship" is possibly the only author (apart from a brief paper by Adam McLean) to explore and interpret the full set of these images from a psychotherapeutic perspective.  James Hillman's paper, "The Yellowing of the Work" is a peerless description of Yellowing and can be found in the 5th Volume of his Uniform Edition: Alchemical Psychology.  My paper, "The Twenty Woodcuts of the Rosarium Philosophorum and their implications for Psychotherapy", draws on these writings and, along with my own interpretation of the images, provides a detailed psychological description of the alchemical process, with particular reference to the yellowing. 

The alchemical stages are not necessarily linear or even consecutive, many cycles and regressions can occur.  In terms of the life cycle, yellowing is generally a later life process.  Mid-life has passed and the descent has begun.  Ideals are lost.  It is our body that usually hails this change, as it begins to fail us.  We can no longer deny our mortality.  Sometimes, a physical crisis, or an encounter with mortality, can initiate the yellowing earlier in life, but this often goes unrecognised, or is unable to mature, until the whitening has been completed.  What remains after this transition is what our personal soul clings to, and can be seen as the meaning behind why we are still here, as a soul incarnated in a human body.  What of us is still wanting to be lived.  The yellowing is the beginning of the long last goodbye.

In the yellowing, our language may change to include more of the body's wisdom.  Phrases such as; "Every fibre of my being"; "a gut feeling"; "I know deep down", betray the yellowing process, speaking of an unreflected upon knowing.  A knowing that comes from deep down in our soul; not formed by knowledge, past experience, or to pacify some external (or internalised) authority, but of who we are in our essence.  Focussing on the body, can bring about a purification as old complexes dissolve, and foreign impurities are flushed from the system.  This cleansing reawakens or enhances instinct, bringing an immediacy of response long since atrophied.  Such immanence can be seen in children; when excited their whole body vibrates, there is no intervening rigidity, reservation or reflection.  As adults we have lost this connection, finding our knowledge in books, outside of ourselves, or at a distance.  We need to consciously return to the immediacy of our bodies.  But, even in this, there is a trap.  It is not "our" bodies, the body is not something to return "to" - as if our bodies are separate.  The very act of seeing the body as separate, an object, is in itself a whitening activity.  It is not my body, they are not my bones.  Bodies are not possessed.  We are our bodies.  Our bodies are forever taking in the world and excreting it.  Our bodies are part of the world.  We are part of an ongoing interdependent process with the world.

In the yellowing, born of tiredness and weariness, a kind of resignation comes; a reluctance to heroically try to change our personal circumstances, or the world out there.  An, "I can't be arsed" attitude allows the world to be, trumping the whitened ego's efforts to change and manipulate the world into a more acceptable reflection of itself, or how it sees the world.  Simultaneously, the letting go of trying to control the world and allowing it to be, means the compulsion to protect oneself from intrusion, or letting other people in, fades, as there is no longer the need to erect or maintain barriers against the world.  The awareness of the body's ageing, confronts us with how little time is left to us, and, how precious that time is.  Being true to oneself becomes more important than keeping others happy and meeting their narcissistic needs.  It is no longer about grand new projects, more about living in the way one wants to.  More being than doing.  More acting from the heart than being driven by "shoulds".  A sloughing off of old identities.

The yellowing is not about personal development, growth or cure.  It is not about working on ourselves in order to improve ourselves.  Yellowing does not process or recycle our shadow or unwanted material, the parts of ourselves we want to transform or be rid of.  Any egoic intention on entry into the yellowing will spoil, pollute or corrupt the process.  Any method, theory or practice designed to promote yellowing will falter on its own inherent purposefulness.  An attitude of simply being with and accepting what is, eventually allows for a deeper will to emerge from within or below.  This is not the same as the heroic egoic power over will, but is experienced more as grace unfolding.  Often described as grace as in, God's grace, this is in fact your grace but the clarity, power and assuredness means it has the sense of, and may well include God's sanction or authority, depending on your beliefs.  However this emergence of the deeper will is more to do with the Reddening than the yellowing, although the two do merge into one another.

With the maturation of the yellowing, the increasing awareness of physical and temporal limitations, brings a reluctance to pick up new responsibilities.  We learn to upset people by saying "No".  Loving oneself, takes precedence over, loving the other in the hope they will love us.  There is no need to prove you are right and the other is wrong.  In the words of the Gestalt prayer "You do your thing, I'll do mine. If we happen to meet great, if not so be it". No great lamenting if we don't meet, no injunction that we should meet, just acknowledgement and respect for our difference.  We are not seduced by every possibility, jerked around by an inner hunger or emptiness' but allow ourselves to engage when our deeper will connects.  This distancing or difference, is not the same as the separateness borne of the whitened ego's need for differentiation, protection or aggrandisement.  This is a recognition of one's essential nature and the need to honour that, by bringing it into the world.

The transformation brought by the yellowing is within the body, rather than an attempt to deny, escape, or transcend the body.  We sink into the body, but this sinking is not the depression that is often and necessarily fought against in the whitening; this sinking is actually welcomed because the attitude has changed.  "I'm done with all that out there, I'm interested in who I actually am, not who I have become", is what characterises this movement.  The bitterness of dealing with out there becomes palpable, taste-able.  The bitterness, the bile, eventually usurps the old whitened ways of discerning that only recognise and accept what already exists, what others affirm.  The bitterness makes room for the new, the unique, the individual.  The true individual can not be mirrored by society and so does not require feedback from out there, as it already is.  The bile informs us we have reached the end of our tolerance of what we have taken in from the world, what we can no longer stomach.

Sinking into the body is akin to wilting.  The whitened ego's striving for phallic erectness has gone.  We have passed the peak, accepted we are on the downward slope as our bodies fail us.  Our grandiose plans for changing the world fade, as we finally lose our ideals based on all those heroic stories we were told as children, resigning ourselves to our material and temporal insignificance.  But in that wilting, as we lose our splendour (and our frippery), something still remains, something of our core that says "this is who I am".  The yellowing of the body is referred to, in medical terms as jaundice, and if we take this to the psychological level, to be jaundiced, means to be stuck in prejudicial ways of seeing.  The power of the collective derides these jaundiced views, ostracising the individual for being too attached to ways of seeing the world based on years of personal experience.  We become more concerned with wholeness and authenticity than fantastical delusions and unachievable perfectionism; or more accurately, wholeness and authenticity have become more concerned with us.  In the wilting, as the whitened ego's boundaries soften, it is hard to see what is happening, for what is happening is not to be seen, it is to be suffered.  We undergo this transformation, it happens through us.  Being under our skin we cannot isolate it, label it or name it.  There is no cure, no healing, just suffering.  There will be no words to accurately describe it, as it has not been seen, has not come through.  We cannot see what is emerging.  It is in us.  We are it.  It is us.  We, like the caterpillar, can not know what we not yet are.  This is the crucial point, the yellowing takes us into the unknown, into the unfamiliar, into mystery.  Any attempt at knowing in advance, returns us to the whitened state.

In terms of the four psychological functions delimited by Jung - the yellowing, brings sensation and intuition (with which I would include imagination) to the fore.  Previously, the reflective functions of feeling and thinking had dominated; but now the more immanent and un-mediated functions of sensation and intuition, take precedence.  This can be experienced as a dual move, both inwards into our bodies and matter, and outwards into spirit and heaven, expanding our awareness whilst focussing our experience.  We become both more natural and spiritual at the same time; more embodied and less detached.  The metaphor of us each being a petal on the many petalled lotus is useful here.  With the move into yellowing, we may not be the most splendid petal on the lotus as we begin to wilt, but we shrink into who we really are, and with wisdom can recognise and respect the life cycle of other petals.  We become aware of the inter-connected nature of all the petals and the lotus, and beyond that, our dependence, on the wider environment.


The Yellow Psychotherapist 

Whitened psychotherapists are happy to polish their and others ego's, they are cold, lacking personality or soul.  Whitened psychotherapists are nothing more than heads on sticks, or soppy do gooders, to their clients.  In elemental terms they are air and water, thinking and feeling types, soppy wind bags.  They lack fire and earth.  When was the last time you saw a passionate and embodied psychotherapist? The best therapists are marginalised by whitening professional codes, academic standards and accrediting bodies.

Psychotherapeutic work is about more than the normalisation achievable through white psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is not about being no-one - a person free from personal unconscious influences as Buddhism and the Transpersonal therapies would have us believe. Psychotherapy is about being a perfectly imperfect individual self.  White psychotherapists may attempt to build the client's ego, and the Buddhist and Transpersonal therapists may believe they can help the client transcend their ego; the Yellow psychotherapist's attention however is elsewhere. The yellow psychotherapist fosters the emergence of the client's character, or personality - the outer manifestation of the client's embodied personal soul. 

Yellow psychotherapy is more about attitude than tools and techniques.  The therapist needs to be yellowed, and have a yellow attitude.  To this end, a certain degree of maturity, or even age, must have been achieved.  The emphasis is more on being than doing, which is not an attitude that comes easily to those still approaching mid-life.  The therapist needs to be as clear as possible about the intentions underlying their actions.  They should avoid trying to ease the client's suffering out of (a misplaced) sympathy for the client, or an inability to bear witness to another's suffering.  They need to keep in check their narcissistic need to be seen as a "good" therapist (i.e. not exploit the syntonic transference), and refrain from attempting to relieve the transformative tension with whitening insights.  The yellowing is such a difficult to place in which to act, that any act, could be in error. Nature needs to be allowed to take it's course. You don't crack an egg open to see how the chick is doing.

Yellowed psychotherapists enable their client's suffering, despite how this may not be welcomed by their client's wish to be healed, cured or removed from suffering.  To facilitate this, requires the therapist to leave the silvery peace of the hitherto cosy roles established in the therapist-client dyad.  The therapist has to stop enabling the client's dysfunction by forever polishing away the client's issues through reflection and interpretation.  The therapist needs to dispense with the mirror and polishing cloths of the reflective whitening phase, and meet face to face in honest, open relationship.  By being more transparent and congruent with their responses, the yellowed therapist facilitates a more equal relationship.  Any authority over the client assumed in the whitening phase, based on theoretical understanding or self deluded notions of personal development, needs to be relinquished, and the therapist needs to allow themselves to effect, and be effected, by the client.  This change in attitude may not be welcomed by the client, as they are likely to feel less able to deal with their problems, and those they face in the world.  The therapist needs to be able to withstand the client's indignation at being robbed of the support they had come to rely on. The client is then forced to stand on their own two feet, and meet the therapist as an equal.  By now though, the client will hopefully recognise that this is not a return to the chaos in which they entered therapy, but a sinking into the authenticity of their experience, and value this, over feeling better.

The yellowed psychotherapist will be faced by many ethical challenges to their professional status and reputation.  The unique and individual responses required in the yellowing phase, do not always submit to the directives of Training Organisations, the Ethical codes of Governing Bodies, the criteria of Accrediting Bodies and the requirements of Insurance Companies.  Exiting the silvery peace, means the therapist being able to stand on their own feet and in their own authority, rather than relying on external organisations to protect them and shield their vulnerability.  This shift requires the therapist to de-construct, or, in alchemical terms - dissolve, their original training, so they are not stuck in codified or habitual ways of responding, or, trapped in their training's own pathology and limitations.  At the same time, the yellowed psychotherapist needs to avoid the temptation of adopting approaches from other therapies that only provide more mirrors, which re-introduce the whitening, rather than encouraging the necessary substantiation of the yellowing.  We need to “get out there”, rather than hide behind our paper masks of training certificates, organisation membership, accreditation endorsements and insurance policies.

"Getting “out there” requires the yellow death, that poisoning prepared by a putrefaction of the unio mentalis that is analytic consciousness.  This poisoning awakens.  The pharmakon kills as it cures.  Our eyes open to the narcissistic corruption inherent to our theory, our diagnoses, treatment and training.  We begin to see the addictive codependency of analyst and analysand disguised and glorified by theories of transference/counter-transference, which intensify the mirror's gleam to the world's neglect."  Hillman (2010) p222

The psychotherapy world has sensed that something is missing.  The promises made by theoretical models are not matching the results of their practice.  In response, theoretical models have been adapted, and new therapies developed, to include the hitherto neglected psychological functions of sensation, intuition and the imagination.  The inclusion of these direct, and unmodulated modes of experiencing, has been an appropriate response to psychotherapy's deficiency, unfortunately their implementation has not been with the appropriate yellowed attitude.  The sensations and movements of the body, are the embodied soul's expression, not some secret language to be interpreted with the intention of causing the sensations to cease.  Such therapeutically determined termination of bodily processes, pushes the embodied soul's expression further out of sight, causing it to become more distorted and disturbed, as it seeks other modes of expression or dissipation.  Intuition needs no reflection as it comes before understanding.  The imagination describes psychic reality, it is not a tool for the whitened ego to wield to shape that reality.  A different attitude is required.  The whitened ego needs to yellow by accepting its inferiority in the face of psychic reality. 

Few of the multitude of psychotherapies enable the yellowing.  Gestalt, Focussing, Core Process and Client Centred Counselling (if the core condition of congruence is upheld) could be said to respect the yellowing, as they focus on moment-to-moment awareness, and, eschew interpretive reductive analysis.  However, they require a pre-whitened client and a yellowed therapist if they are to be practised effectively.  The recent vogue for integrative therapies may be a cause for hope, provided they have both depth and an over-arching theoretical model, to sufficiently integrate the constituent parts. 



Yellow Psychotherapy

The yellowing psychotherapist needs to decide the appropriate time for the work to shift from the whitening to the yellowing phase (although the yellowing might already be happening out of sight), based on the client's process and the progress of their work together.  Obviously the client's process leads in this respect.  The work may lose it's impetus, and can be characterised as entering a lull.  Sometimes, this lull is mistaken as a time for the work to end, and to some extent it is an end.  It is the end of the whitening phase, so it has elements of completion and an ending, but there is more to come.   A discomfort at being in silence with another may become apparent and minor problems in the client's life might be welcomed as an excuse by client or therapist, or both, to return to the silvery peace achieved earlier in their relationship.  Some lines from T.S. Eliot are relevant here.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

The yellowing psychotherapist needs to discern between the client's problems that are generated to avoid moving into the yellowing and those that genuinely require a return to the whitening stage.  Such regressions are not necessarily detrimental to the process, and reflect the circulations found in alchemy.  The client is unlikely to explicitly express the need for the shift as they are entering unfamiliar ground, with little understanding of how to initiate such a transition.  Here, the onus is on the therapist to dissolve, what may be a hitherto unrecognised transference, of personal authority and autonomy onto them, by the client.  This sense of autonomy and independence, may well never have been experienced by the client, and they therefore will be ignorant of having given it up. 

Working psychotherapeutically in the citrinitas involves the therapist not knowing.  The therapist needs to let go of theories and perspectives and enter what Schwartz-Salant describes as the interactive field, where neither knows, and both are open to the experience of the now.  Attention can be paid to whatever arises; body sensations, feelings, thoughts, images.  Things are allowed to be what they are, and the focus is on the experience and the process, not the understanding of it.  The move to interpretation is to be avoided, as this punctures the interactive-field created between therapist and client.  In this space, attention is paid to what emerges, and little attempt is made to attribute this to either party.

Theory or training does not help in the yellowing.  The therapist needs to be authentic and congruent.  This is not a place where the therapist should be looking after the client, looking after their feelings - the client needs their feelings.  Patronising or matronising behaviour has no place in soul-to-soul relating.  The therapist needs to sensitively include all of their responses to the client, however extraordinary or unusual this may be.  If a client is to live their own life, it means leaving the well trodden path.  It does not serve the client, if the therapist is not willing to follow the client into the unknown, and insists upon dragging the client back onto the roads they know. 

Mystery needs to be respected.  Not knowing has to be borne.  Tears need to be allowed to flow, rather than stemmed back with comforting platitudes, or wiped away with proffered tissues.  The salt of tears need to be tasted for wisdom to come.  Just as the alchemist's pelican vessel returns the condensed vapours to the heart of the matter putrefying below.  The body needs to be attended to, and not forced to talk.  It's communications are expressions of how it is, not pleas for anaesthetising interpretations.  The body has a wisdom the mind does not know.  The body needs to be allowed to dissolve the artificial boundaries the whitened ego installed.

As the whitened ego weakens, intuition and imagination are likely to become more apparent.  Intuitive awareness, or an irrational knowing, may be experienced more frequently.  If these can be caught and acted upon, before the whitened ego banishes them through calls for rationality and appropriate behaviour, the whitened ego's wish to remain on the well trodden path can be circumvented.  Combined with a new sensitivity to the body and a heightening of it's senses, impulsive and instinctual actions are more likely.  The therapist needs to watch for, and encourage, such supposed irrationality, as this is the doorway to the embodied soul's escape from the whitened ego's attempts at confinement.  Likewise, the client's imagination, in the form of images or fantasies, is likely to be awoken or refreshed.  Spontaneous images are likely to occur more often and these need to be followed or enacted, especially when they suggest immediate action.  One client summed this up with the following lyrics to a song he penned.


And it came to me,

That if I wanted to be free.

I needed to do what I feel,

And feel what I see.


By giving primacy to both his ordinary sight sensation, and inner sight in the form of imagination, this became his own soulful (not spiritual) practice, effectively anchoring his will in the present moment.  The concept of 'moment to moment will', has proved useful to disarm some clients of their whitening ego's.  The will is uprooted from its blind habitual ways and creative options are opened up.  The internal monologue of the whitened ego, is likely to be quietly undermined by the introduction of a previously unheard voice.  If this were to become apparent, the therapist needs to champion this new voice, encouraging an internal dialogue, with the client as witness to their own duality, and, the larger duality, they live within.  

The inclusion of body within the psychotherapy, is likely to introduce the delicate subject of the client's attitude to sex.  Client's sexual fantasies, usually not shared until later in the work, often reveal their innate character, or way of being in the world.  These most intimate, secret and sometimes bizarre behaviours, describe the way in which their embodied soul longs for contact with another, and to be in the world.  For some, this may be the only way their embodied soul can to connect to another.  During yellow psychotherapy, as the body is freed from habitual holding patterns, client's sexual fantasies and behaviour are likely to change.  Previously secretly held fantasies, may leave the realm of fantasy and be enacted, as their attitude to those fantasies change.  New and more varied fantasies may be awoken.  More significantly, the actual sexual act, is likely to be liberated from the whitened ego's fear of losing itself in intimacy and/or orgasm, allowing a truer, more spontaneous and relational sexuality.  One possible variation, is graphically displayed in the Rosarium Philosophorum series, where coitus shifts from the traditional male on female configuration of woodcut 4, to the female on male, or holding his penis, scenarios in the two versions of woodcut 11.


Woodcut 4. Conjunction


Woodcut 11. Fermentation. 



Alternative Woodcut 11. Fermentation


Contrary to Jung's protestations of there being no actual sexual relevance to the pictures, it does not require a huge leap of imagination, to see how, symbolic formation in the unconscious can lead to acting out in the bedroom.  Beyond this, the notion of female consciousness penetrating, or undermining from within, the dominant male consciousness is surely plenty for the imagination to be going on with, even without the inclusion of personalised fantasies.  Sexual fantasies need to be accepted rather than pathologised and dismissed as perverted, if the individual is to ever emerge. If we only accept what is normal, there is never any change.  Whilst such imagery and behaviour may be difficult to accept, it was not so long ago that homosexuality was punished by the State with imprisonment, and condemned by the Church; now it is legitimised by the State and sanctified by the Church (or parts thereof).  As we increasingly open to having both an animus and an anima, it is no wonder that stereotypical sexual roles are breaking down and new formations emerging.  The therapist needs to allow such client revelations, without prejudging or condemning them based on their own sexual attitudes and beliefs.

Dreamwork, the cornerstone of Jungian Analysis, is also in need of yellowing.  Dreams come at night, when the waking or conscious ego, is asleep.  In this state, we are exposed to the psyche's natural language of imagery, without interference from the ego.  Psyche speaks in image.  Reductive interpretive analysis to try to understand the dream's "message" is destined to fall short, due to the impossibility of translating an image into words; however, more importantly, the error, is in the attempt to translate, to drag the image into the ego's realm of understanding.  The appropriate attitude, is to recognise that the dream is reality, and the ego needs to adapt itself to that reality.  The apparently predictive nature of dreams is not down to some magical process of the unconscious, dreams are only predictive in the sense that the ego catches up with the reality of the dream.  The ego always starts off behind, but when it catches up with the dream, the ego's experience is one of the dream having predicted reality.  However, if the starting point is that the dream is reality, then there is nothing to interpret, all that is required, is that the ego drops its way of seeing and evaluating the world, and adopts the reality of the dream.  There is no Royal Road to the unconscious, there is nowhere to go.  The unconscious is not a foreign land somewhere over there.  We are our unconscious, we live within our unconsciousness. 

That we live within unconsciousness, means that is OK that the therapist makes mistakes, or acts from their unconsciousness.  It is not whether we make mistakes, but how we are with our "mistakes".  The deepest therapeutic changes happen through co-transference - the mutual unconscious process of Transference and Counter-Transference that Jung originally wrote about in the Psychology of the Transference.  Co-transference lies beneath the discrete phenomena of transference, and counter-transference, that are so widely used and misused in many of the whitening psychotherapies.  In the therapeutic process, client and therapist are both unconscious of the co-transference they are going through, and only with hindsight can this process, and it's result, be known.  If the therapist remains stuck in their old whitening ways, they will either, subtly force the client to adapt to them, or block the client's transformation.  For more information on this, see my article -  Clarifying and Re-mystifying Transference, Counter-Transference and Co- transference.  A Guide to avoiding Procrustean Psychotherapy.  Tomkins (2010)

What is ideally required of the therapist, is a moment to moment consciousness or awareness of their actual process, not an acting out of unconscious habit.  And whilst this is a huge demand to place on the 'only too human' therapist, some solace is to be found in that the client will no doubt re-present the opportunity many times, and in various ways, providing many opportunities for the therapist to be aware of the client's deeper, or authentic process.  The therapist does not need to be perfect, just true to themselves.  The acknowledgement of difference, of the other's otherness, is more important than successfully narcissistically mirroring or echoing, the other.  The therapist needs to champion the client's individuality, not only in the face of society, but more importantly, in spite of the therapist's narcissistic tendencies. 




The journey the client's embodied personal soul takes them on, is their life.  The individual's personal soul is not mirrored in society, it is not out there in the world to be sought.  The journey is to meet, the longing is to be met; not to find ourselves, but to make our soul's more manifest in the world.  It is not about seeking perfection through mirroring, but accepting the perfection of imperfect meeting (and parting) that forms our character and makes us who we are.  As the universal forces of Spirit and Matter, in the form of animus and anima, dance their eternal dance of separation and convergence, both within and without of us, so are we made.



Jung, Carl (1953).  Psychology and Alchemy.  Routledge.

McGuire, William and Hull , R.F.C.  (1980) C.G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters.  Picador

Tomkins, Gary (2010).  Clarifying and Re-mystifying Transference, Counter-Transference and Co- transference.  A Guide to avoiding Procrustean Psychotherapy.  Available at

Tomkins, Gary (2012).  The Twenty Woodcuts of the Rosarium Philosophorum and their implications for Psychotherapy.  Available at

Hillman, James (2010).  Alchemical Psychology.  Uniform Edition 5.  Dallas Institute Publications.


Further Reading

Fabricius, Johannes (1976). Alchemy: The Medieval Alchemists and their Royal Art.  The Aquarian Press.

Grof, Stanislav (1985).  Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death and Transcendence in Psychotherapy.  State University of New York Press.

Schwartz-Salant (1998).  The Mystery of Human Relationship.  Alchemy and the Transformation of the Self.  Routledge.


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14/03/2022 18:26:51
I cant thank you enough for this article, I learned a great deal and am sure of the immense knowledge of whoever wrote this. I have nothing else to add besides the fact that in my personal studies I've seen the 4 alchemical stages coordinate quite well with the four humors and the issues each of them face. (1) Melancholic: Negroid Stage (2) Phlegmatic: Albedo Stage (3) Chloric: Citrinitas Stage (4) Sanguine: Rubedo Stage It may be far fetched but these four humors, as they originate from the four elements, (1) Earth (2) Water (3) Fire (4) Air, which themselves can be aligned with (1) Sensing (2) Feeling (3) Thinking (4) Intuition, may have some basis in the personality typology Briggs presented? Lets suppose there is a chart, with four quadrant, each quadrant having two separate boxes. There's Earth/Water/Fire/Air; paired with Sensing/Feeling/Thinking/intuition, paired with (Fi/Ti Dom), (Si/Ni Dom), (Te/Fe Dom), (Se/Ne Dom) personalities. All the problems of each type seem to resonate with this. I've seen for example, Ni Dominant individuals have problems clearly associated with an individual stuck on the whitening stage, Ti dominant individuals experiencing the pain associated with the blackening stage and so on. ToTo
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01/08/2023 03:41:09
I would like to say that was an amazing comment linking the four stages to the humors! Here is a quote from Hillman explaining the same thing - going from yellow to reddening: In the carcass of the lion a new sweetness, thick and yellow and sticking to all things, like honey, like oil, flowing like wax and gild- ing as it touches. One’s nature goes through a temperamental turn, a change in humors from choleric to sanguine, which the dictionary defines as confident, optimistic, cheerful. So does citrinitas become the reddening.
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01/08/2023 03:41:22
I would like to say that was an amazing comment linking the four stages to the humors! Here is a quote from Hillman explaining the same thing - going from yellow to reddening: In the carcass of the lion a new sweetness, thick and yellow and sticking to all things, like honey, like oil, flowing like wax and gild- ing as it touches. One’s nature goes through a temperamental turn, a change in humors from choleric to sanguine, which the dictionary defines as confident, optimistic, cheerful. So does citrinitas become the reddening.
Add Reply
01/08/2023 03:41:34
I would like to say that was an amazing comment linking the four stages to the humors! Here is a quote from Hillman explaining the same thing - going from yellow to reddening: In the carcass of the lion a new sweetness, thick and yellow and sticking to all things, like honey, like oil, flowing like wax and gild- ing as it touches. One’s nature goes through a temperamental turn, a change in humors from choleric to sanguine, which the dictionary defines as confident, optimistic, cheerful. So does citrinitas become the reddening.
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Vienna D Hall
18/05/2024 20:15:19
Dear Gary, I am in a master's program for psychoanalysis and am currently working on a thesis on psychological alchemy. I have spent days (weeks, months, years?) reading and thinking about the issue regarding the limitations of the anima and animus being assigned to sex; even though I find Jungian work much less foreclosing of the feminine than Freud, Lacan, et cetera, and he did outline some exceptions to the "rule," still, this all felt ... false. I really have to thank you for your blog. I came across it while trying to get some (modern) information on the "lost" citrinitas stage. It was mind blowing to me to read your concept of human beings having both anima and animus in them; I mean, to me that felt obvious, but so much theory seemed to oppose it, and that begins to wear you down... I also was dumbfounded at your assigning the animus to the albedo moon and anima to the citrinitas sun that I at first assumed it was a typo. I'm thrilled to read a fresh perspective. I will be adding it to my research. Thank you.
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