Being deep in nigredo, a white light appears. We have arrived at the second stage of the Great Work: albedo, or whiteness. The alchemist has discovered within himself the source from which his life comes forth. The fountain of life from which the water of life flows forth giving eternal youth.
The source is one: male and female are united. In alchemical images we see a fountain from which two streams of water flow into one basin.
Albedo is the discovery of the hermaphroditic nature of man. In the spiritual sense each man is a hermaphrodite. We can also see this in the first embryonic phase of the fetus. There is no sex until a certain number of weeks after conception.
When man descended into the physical world his body entered a world of duality. On the bodily level this is expressed by the sexes. But his spirit is still androgen, it contains duality in unity. Its unity is not bound to space, time or matter. Duality is an expression of unity in our physical world. It is temporal and will eventually cease to exist. When male and female are united again, one will experience his true self. Conscious and unconscious are totally united.
Albedo happens when the Sun rises at midnight. It is a symbolic expression for the rising of the light at the depth of darkness. It is the birth of Christ in the middle of the winter. In the depth of a psychological crises, a positive change happens.
Albedo, symbolized by Aurora, by the dawn, the morning star (Venus-Aphrodite), and by the sun rising up from the Philosopher's Sea.
Albedo is also represented by Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn. Her brother is Helios, the Sun. With a play of words aurora was connected with aurea hora, ‘the hour of gold’. It is a supreme state of conscious. Pernety (1758): "When the Artist (=Alchemist) sees the perfect whiteness, the Philosophers say that one has to destroy the books, because they have become superfluous."
Albedo is also symbolized by the morning star Venus/Aphrodite. Venus has a special place in the Great Work.
sed the impurities, the blackness that veils our true light being.
Red sulfur is the same as what is called Maya in eastern philosophies. Maya is the world of illusions, or the veil that prevents us from seeing and experiencing true reality, where the eternal light is. By the impurities of Maya, man has become ignorant. He has forgotten his origin and thinks he is in a world which in actuality is an illusion.
As we mentioned above, Aphrodite/Venus as the morning star is a central image for the albedo phase of the Great Work. Aphrodite was born from the foam that arose when the genitals of Uranus (cut of by Chronos, out of hate and jealousy) fell into the sea. The cutting of the genitals represents repressed and tormented love. The sea, symbol of the soul, however will bring forth the love goddess.
Liberation will happen when we become conscious again of the contents of the soul. As Aphrodite is born from the sea, she is the guide through the fearful world of the unconscious (the sea, or the underworld). The alchemist descends into these depths to find the ‘prima materia’, also called the ‘green lion’. The color green refers to the primal life forces. Venus also has the green color. An important characteristic of Aphrodite is that she helps us in our human shortcomings. She gives ideals and dreams to fulfill. But she also gives frightening images in order to make man aware of his lower nature. "By her beauty Venus attracts the imperfect metals and gives rise to desire, and pushes them to perfection and ripeness." (Basilius Valentinus, 1679) Liberation can only happen by becoming conscious of the lower nature and how we transmute it.
In Jungian psychology Venus/Aphrodite is the archetype of the anima (in alchemy also the ‘soror’ or ‘wife’ of the alchemist). The anima is the collective image of the woman in a man. It is an image especially tainted by his first contact with his mother. The anima represents all the female tendencies in the psyche of a man, such as feelings, emotions, moods, intuition, receptivity for the irrational, personal love and a feeling for nature. She is the bearer for the spiritual. Depending on the development of the man she can also be the seductress who lures him away to love, hopelessness, demise, and even destruction.
Other alchemical images for albedo are baptism and the white dove, both derived from Christianity. Baptism symbolizes the purification of both body and soul by ‘living water’. ‘Living water’ was regarded as the creative force of the divine. It allowed the soul to be received into the community of the holy spirit. Thus baptism allows the purified soul to bring forth the resurrection of Christ in oneself. This is the ‘hieros gamos’, the ‘sacred marriage’ between the soul and Christ. Christ here represent our own inner divine essence.
There are many other symbols in alchemy for the second phase, or albedo: 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. As silver is the metal of the moon, the moon was also a symbol for albedo. Alchemists also talk about the white stone or white tincture. They all means basically the same thing, although one has to understand them in the context in which they were written.