Donald Trump’s election has been a surprise for all — a chilling one for some, an exhilarating one for others. Either way, for those trying to understand it and what it foretells, one can focus on political, economic, or social arguments — which can be most insightful. But I’d like to add another perspective: one inspired by an ancient ‘school of Wisdom’, called Alchemy. Why? Because it speaks of universal, timeless patterns and processes; it reveals forces at play beyond the particulars of our time and thus helps us envision the situation from a wider, wiser perspective.
China, India, the Western world have all had alchemical traditions for thousands of years. Their essential premise is the following:
When we are born, we are like a chaotic primal matter (“prima materia”), in which there are seeds of gold (our essence, our core talents).
The journey of life, the meaning of our presence on Earth — the Great Work (“Magna Opus”) as the alchemists called it — is about finding those seeds of gold and becoming them. We might stumble upon them, or pr0actively work to find them, which is ideal. Or instead, we might need some crisis to prompt us into ‘doing the Work’. It might have started with a small slap, one we didn’t learn from; it then kept coming back in the form of setbacks and crises, increasing in strength, till it would become a catastrophe, what Alchemy calls a Negredo (from the Latin negro, black): a blackening, a disintegration, a falling apart. When a Negredo occurs, an essential pillar of our life collapses — it can be losing a job, a loved one, or facing a major health scare.
The same phenomenon takes place at the collective level of a community or a country. And in countless ways, for many people in the United States and around the world, the election of Donald Trump feels like a Negredo.
Many among his supporters chose him precisely to provoke a Negredo: they saw him as the anti-establishment champion, the one who will finally “burn it all to the ground”, cleanse the system from all the rot and improve whatever wrong they perceive in their life and country. And he has already delivered some: he single-handedly managed to crush the Republican & Democratic parties’ establishment, as well as the two “ruling” political dynasties. He exploded all conventions of campaigning, fund-raising, civility, transparency, facts’ accuracy (and more) during the election campaign. And he now promises to do the same in domestic and international relations realms — many Negredos in the waiting.
For those opposing him, his election is a complete and most appalling Negredo — the one who bullied, lied, exalted the fear of the Other and the most regressive values, has won. He now has at his disposal the largest surveillance state apparatus in the world, the nuclear weapons’ code, the opportunity to nominate one or more Supreme Court justices, and countless other ways to powerfully impact the country and the world. Pain, anger, angst are felt by millions.
For them, steeped in this gloomy Negredo, what can Alchemy reveal? According to it, when confronted with a Negredo, we have two options: getting stuck like in a dark hole of depression, anger, hopelessness, or in some form of victimization and projection of all the responsibility on “the Other”. Or instead, taking it as an opportunity to introspect, cleanse, grow massively and most meaningfully. If we opt for this second option, which requires deep introspection and hard work, Alchemy speaks of an Albedo phase, from the Latin word “alba”, white. It is like a “pregnancy of oneself”, working hard to dig in, explore and understand inner & outer realities, let go of obsolete layers, transform and grow. Then, if we do our work well enough, we get to the Rubedo, or Red Phase, when we shine our “inner Gold” from within. At the collective level, I feel that Trump’s election is an enormous opportunity for this Albedo phase to take place.
Beyond the political and socio-economic factors, powerful shadow forces of the unconscious carried Donald Trump to power — like the fear of the “Other” and of the Feminine, a deep identity crisis felt by many, powerful anger against a rotten political and financial system, and much more (see my piece on the topic). To be provocative, I might say “we all have an inner Trump”, i.e. we all have some shadow waiting to be revealed and brought into the light — our fears, our limitations, whatever we have been oppressing and suppressing in us. This is an opportunity to look into it and perform some meaningful “archeological digging” into our psyche.
At a collective level, feelings rooted in racism, homophobia, patriarchy, misogyny have been exposed like never before. It therefore is an opportunity to find their root causes and devise ways to transform them thoroughly. Other frustrations expressed by the “Trump vote”, like the anger against a corrupt political and financial system should prompt deep transformations of Wall Street, Washington and beyond.
Also, one can argue that Trump epitomizes some of the darker and most unwise instincts in the American psyche: hyper-consumerism, life as a reality show, narcissism (being “the greatest country in the world” etc.). Those trends and traits are now represented in the highest office, by someone who is a caricature of them all. Trump is therefore a mirror of the American psyche, and an opportunity for the country to look at them in the crudest and most honest light.
Beyond the cleansing of what lies hidden in our collective unconscious, this Negredo also is an opportunity for a powerful activation of our “Inner Gold”. Since November 8th, I have heard countless people express this feeling: with Trump in power, there is no choice but be proactive & vigilant, use our own unique tools to advance the humanistic values we believe in. Many acknowledged that with someone like Obama in Washington, they had a tendency to sit back and expect him to do the work. Now there is no such “projection” possible on a distant character. It is up to us to do the work here and now, where we are, at our own level, and rooted in our specific skills.
Many myths and traditions speak of the encounter with the Dragon: when we walk in the forest of Life, and encounter a Dragon on the path, we have two choices. We can try and escape, in which case the Dragon might catch us and kill us, or we might run fast enough to another path, where most likely, we will encounter another Dragon. Or we can try and fight the Dragon. In order to survive and win, we have no choice but find inside of us skills and “weapons” we didn’t know we had, or which were dormant. If we defeat the Dragon, we know we are at least as powerful as it was. We grew stronger from that encounter, we found more of our “Inner Gold” to use the alchemical metaphor.
I feel that this is precisely the opportunity with Trump’s election. We all have an opportunity to both expose more of our Shadow and find more of our Essence, our “power”, our Gold. It is not an easy process — it requires courage, persistence, a community of teachers and companions to walk on that path, a deep connection to our wise, guiding side. But this is where Alchemy is so precious: we know that it describes a timeless process, we know that if we do the Work, we inevitably find the Gold. Trump is not the first Negredo in History. He simply is the expression of a larger process, of larger forces being orchestrated in ways our human brain cannot yet fathom.
The Persian poet Rumi wisely said “through the Wound, enters the Light”. For those shell-shocked by November 8th, may this timeless truth be the uplifting & guiding principle.