The alchemical process is a metaphor for the spiritual journey toward living in an enlightened manner. There are three phases of transformation in Alchemy: Nigredo, Albedo, and Rubedo. Nigredo is a process of blackening, purification through Fire...the burning away of ignorance...Ego Death. Albedo is a whitening process, purification through water, enlightenment...Ressurection of the Spirit. Rubedo, the final stage, refers to reddening, the incorporation of enlightenment into one's life. The alchemists believed that as a first step in the pathway to the Philosopher's Stone all alchemical ingredients had to be cleansed and cooked extensively to a uniform black matter.
In psychology, Carl Jung interpreted nigredo as the moment of maximum despair, that is a prerequisite to personal development. Nigredo is "the dark night of the soul". He says "Right at the beginning you meet the dragon, the chthonic spirit, the devil or, as the alchemists called it, the blackness, the nigredo, and this encounter produces suffering..." It brings the ego into contact with what it fears. The state of Nigredo is often caused by a traumatic experience, and signifies the natural period of despair. This is where the alchemist has to lose everything. He must give up all attachments and become like a child again. Everything has been destroyed in the fire...Nigredo is the corruption that must take place before growth, the chaos that gives birth to cosmos.
To put it simply, Nigredo is the melancholy that makes one slow down, and examine life, to eventually seek therapy, and to witness the shadow side of one's personality. Seeing this shadow makes one encounter one's own powerlessness, guilt, and worthlessness, and work through these with suffering. One instance of the use of nigredo in Greek myth about the Goddess of Spring, Persephone and her seasonal descent into the Underworld...the Winter of her despair.
Images from Touché par le Feu (Touched by Fire) featuring French photographer Martin d’Orgeval’s photos of the famous Parisian taxidermy house of Deyrolle after the devastating fire on February 1st, 2008.