Sunday, May 9, 2010

Distillation and sublimation

i'd better start up this blog again before the spammers take over!

Was poking around the bookstore for Dion Fortune's "The Mystical Qabalah," which i never had the chance to finish, but found her "The Training and Work of an Initiate" instead.  Surprising to see the book as "The Mystical Qabalah" bought from such a conventional bookstore.  Sometimes i look down on the simple folk in this town, but there must be an interesting reader among them!

Dion Fortune makes a useful point in the latter book: for someone on the path of hidden work in the world (the "occult path"), all the "things of this world" that distract from the Work are not for renunciation, but for sublimation.  The technical image there is of carbon dioxide ice passing directly from the solid to the gaseous state, but the esoteric image is that of "gross matter" being "spiritualized":  the sculptor carving beauty out of stone, the poet shaping everlasting words out of changeable feelings.  Related images are the crucible and the still:  two different ways to express the same idea of separating a noble material from its impurities.

This reminded me of a conversation i had with an experimental chemist.  His experiments require exceptionally pure ethyl alcohol.  Even the alcohol he purchases from chemical supply houses isn't pure enough, so he has to refine it further by distillation, in a process not much different from what moonshiners use.  i asked him whether he couldn't just start with the same raw material (fermented mash) used to distill strong liquors for human consumption, but he said that he can't, because that raw material has water in it.  It's physically (i.e., thermodynamically -- barring the work of Maxwell's Demon) impossible to use heat to separate a mixture of water and alcohol completely.  Some 5% of the water will always remain.  The raw substance with which he starts, therefore, contains no water; it must be made using a different process than used for distilling liquor.

This conversation suggests an esoteric analogy, which should give pause to those who want to practice sublimation: Is it possible to sublimate all human emotions and experiences?  Can everything be spiritualized?  i don't speak of things that are definitely wicked -- that clearly harm others or oneself.  Some things may not be wicked, but they may not be good material for spiritualization: we may need to drop them completely, to renounce them, rather than try to carve them into the desired shape or burn them into a more pure substance.  All things are good, we are told; but are they?