The events of the past few weeks, particularly the sickening, cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in broad daylight, was devastating not only to Black communities in America, but to all decent humans everywhere. The outcry from across the country and the world was clear and immediate: it is time to fix the racial pandemic in America. We are fed up and fired up. And while dialogue is certainly an essential first step, most of us feel that the time is long overdue for swift action to implement policy changes that end racial oppression and inequities. As we grapple with the horror and trauma of what we witnessed, we are outraged to acknowledge that this kind of racism is part of the daily lives of so many African Americans and people of color.
The Alchemy of Change
The fires on the streets have since been put out, but the fires of injustice, outrage, and anger continue to burn inside us. Alchemically, fire has rich symbolism as the element of purification and transformation. The ancient art of alchemy (from the Arabic al-kimiya) was practiced in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. It is a process through which base metals and other materials undergo certain operations in order to transform them into valuable substances like gold, or the elusive elixir of life.
In Anatomy of the Psyche, psychiatrist and Jungian analyst Edward Edinger relates fire to the alchemical stage calcinatio, where a solid is heated until it turns into a dry powder. Edinger explains that this process could also refer to the transformation of a mental or emotional state. By applying intense heat, something is destroyed, or undergoes purification, purging, or drying out, so that it emerges in a transformed state. In the religious traditions, we see this in descriptions of hell fire, tongues of fire, purgatorial, crematorial, and sacrificial flames.
Fire is a good thing, when we know how to use it. Psychologically, fire symbolizes libido, desire, passion, commitment, rage, being consumed by one’s primal instincts (Edinger, 1985). It has the power to consume us, destroy us, transform us. The fire, intensity, and pressure of these turbulent times has the potential to transform society for the better, for instance, through the dismantling of old oppressive structures that have sustained racism for centuries. Like the ancient alchemists, we are called upon at this time to develop the ability to wield fire in constructive and transformative ways.
Fired up? Here’s what you can do
Exercising agency over things that matter to us is empowering, increases optimism, and decreases feelings of isolation as we collaborate with others towards a common purpose. Here are some suggestions for action:
- July is Minority Mental Health Awareness month. The timing and urgency of addressing the crisis of mental health in our minority communities could not be greater. Check out activities in your area and join in the conversation. Issues like cultural stigma, limited access to mental health care among minorities, generational trauma, racial inequities, LGBTQ+ activism, cultural competency training, etc. are being addressed.
- This is voting season. Research the candidates running for office in your county and city and vote for people who are committed to racial and social justice. The people we put in our sheriff’s office, courts, city councils, and schools influence the kind of progress and policing we see in our neighborhoods.
- Participate in civic, faith-based, and community organizations in your area that provide resources for education, employment, nutrition, mentoring, affordable housing, legal and health services in minority communities.
In the meantime, we keep the flames of justice, vigilance, and remembrance burning in our hearts, in our communities, and at the ballot box. Black Lives Matter. A luta continua.
Edinger, E. (1985). Anatomy of the psyche. Alchemical symbolism in psychotherapy. Illinois: Open Court.
Photo by Maxim Tajer on Unsplash