The archetypal symbol of Metal may involve a hardness, or coldness, of character. In the dream sense, we may be depicting a shield, or barrier, against personal and entirely human, heartache. We are replacing soul and emotion with cool reason and innovative spirit. In this sense, in the image of cold metal, we are observing the force and accuracy of man’s mind and ‘hard’ logic.
However, if our dream reveals metal which is rusted, cracked, or frayed, our Unconscious may be illustrating a weakness in our personal meddle and intellectual refinement.
On the other hand, a fluid combination of metals and organic materials, may represent a healthy balance of intellect, emotion and spirituality. For example, the dreamscape of a glass and metal greenhouse thriving with life, may epitomize an articulate understanding of nature and all her fervent creation. Because we ‘manipulate’ metal it becomes a crucial impression of our own self-development. However, its hard, angular shape provides a defined contrast with our own smooth and soft flesh.
This paradox imparts the relationship between our sensitive mind and our sensitive body. We must ask this question: ‘Are we creating in order to sustain life, or, are we creating in order to destroy life?’. Is technology, (in our unique perception,) good or evil? The metal dream explores this question and the many facets of our own positve and negative attitudes about human life.
The word ‘metal’ is derived from the Greek metallon (mine) and Rene Alleau relates it to the root me, or mes, the oldest word for the Moon.
There are two distinct sides to the symbolism of metals. Metal-workers, such as blacksmiths, were on the one hand often partly excluded from society since their trade appeared to have links with the Underworld and was on this account judged dangerous. On the other, they often played the opposite part of a major role in society, their trades underpinning initiatory cults such as those of the cabeiri in Ancient Greece and of Chinese and African secret societies. The first aspect is likely to have been the more important, since the most significant factors were the underground source of the ore and kinship of the forge with the fires of the Underworld. The beneficent aspect is based upon purification and transmutation, as well as the cosmic function of the person affecting the transmutation. Smelting pure metal from rough ore, said Jacob Boehme, ‘was releasing the spirit from its accidents so that it became visible’.
Metals provide suitable subjects for effecting transformations, of which the objective in alchemy was to extract the sulphur. The fusion of metals may be compared with death; the sulphur extracted being its essential quality, the nucleus or spirit of the metal.
In China the smelting process was likened to the acquisition of immortality and is the source of the alchemical symbolism; the Chinese ideogram chin - a stylization of metal fragments in the soil - carries the selfsame meaning of both ‘metal’ and ‘gold’. Nevertheless, gold is pure yang, while the element Metal is of the essence of yin and corresponds to the west, to Autumn and to the colour white. ‘Melt down the universe and refashion it’, is a phrase used in the ritual of a secret society. This is the alchemists’ solve et coagula, the rotational influences of Heaven and Earth, of the yang aspect and the yin aspect. The creation of alloys is on a par with marriage, since metals are substances endowed with life and sexuality. They have blood, which Nicolas Flamel describes as the mineral spirit which resides in metals. Metals are married by smelting and this is why success relies upon the sacrifice of the smith and his wife in the crucible (yang and yin) or at least of such surrogates as their hair or nail-clippings.
The impure aspect of metals, sign of their cyclical solidification, may be found in the Jewish prohibition of metal in their altars and of metal tools in the construction of Solomon’s Temple. This ban was directed especially against iron since, as the doctrine of yuga (the ages of gold, silver, bronze and iron) shows, the symbols of metal are set in descending hierarchical order of ‘solidification’, the gradual hardening of the four ages of the world.
This cosmic hierarchy is to be found among the myths of many peoples and ages, such as in Hesiod, for example. The Golden Age and its people are wholly marvellous, while the Iron Age and its people are wholly brutalized and despotic. A hierarchy of metals also recurs within the social hierarchy, gold, silver or iron plate being allocated by class, while in the Middle Ages, gold spurs were for knights and silver for squires. This distinction was less a matter of cost than of the notion of hierarchy based upon the symbolism of metals. Such symbolism, however, recognized alloys, such as bronze.
Metals are the planetary elements of the Underworld and planets the metals of the Heavens, the symbolism of each running parallel with the other. Metals symbolized cosmic energy in condensed and solid form, with different influences and attributes.
As symbols of energy, Jungian symbolism has identified them with the libido. Their chthonian character relates them to sexual desires and, if the latter are sublimated, it is as if base metal had been transmuted into pure gold. In this context, the analogy is not only with astrology, but also with alchemy. The issue is release from an enslavement to carnal appetite which plays the same role as harmful planetary or metallic influences. The path of individuation may be compared with that of transmutation. Sublimation or spiritualization, like the alchemists’ Great Work, proceeds through fire and destruction to reintegration on a higher level. Alternatively, and following another line of reasoning, it is less a matter of liberation from planetary or metallic influences than integrating them into a completely balanced lifestyle.
To lay aside all metal is a very ancient initiatory and symbolic ceremony and is undoubtedly related to the ‘impure’ aspect of metals. It has been likened to ‘the myth of the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar, who was forced during her descent into the Underworld, successively to cast aside all her jewels and garments as she passed through seven successive outworks to appear stark naked before her sister, the terrifying ruler of the kingdom of the dead.’ Something similar is to be found in Masonic initiatory rituals, in which the candidate is asked to remove from his person all metal objects such as rings, small change, watches, chains and so on, to show his indifference to all material goods and conventions and his willingness to regain his original state of innocence.