Meditating on a theme for a recent talk with Caroline Casey’s Trickster Council, the first image that came into my mind was the Lakota Medicine Wheel, a sacred symbol of the complementary energies of the world and how they come together in a balanced whole. And, since my role in the group is to bring our Spagyric plant energies to the discussion, my next thought was of Banisteriopsis caapi, Ayahuasca, or Vine of the Soul. Stick with me a moment, and I promise that connection will make more sense!
The Medicine Wheel, also called the Sacred Hoop, is a universal symbol across many cultures and times, but the one I was thinking of is the four-fold one of the Lakota, which is a circle divided into four quadrants, coloured black, white, yellow and red. You can read more about the deeper symbolism of the Wheel here, but what struck me about the image as it came to me was that these same colours are also found in Alchemical symbolism, and in the four forms of Banisteriopsis caapi that we work with.
The Caapi vine grows in the Amazon basin, where it has been used as a healing and visionary plant for centuries. It is part of the Shamanic brew called Ayahuasca, and it is often called Ayahuasca by itself, that name meaning “vine of the soul”. The brew made from the Vine also usually contains a companion plant, since the vine alone is not traditionally considered active; its role is to open the mind energetically and chemically for the visionary plant additions such as Chacruna or Mimosa.
The Vine is known in four main colours: Black, White, Yellow and Red, although it takes a deep connection to the plant’s intelligence to tell each one apart in a jungle setting, since all four can appear to be the same species. When prepared, though, each creates a different coloured brew, and each gives a distinct and unique experience.
By now, you might be wondering why that particular sequence of colours, since there isn’t any apparent reason not to order them some other way. That’s true, but in my mind they are always Black, White, Yellow and Red because in their other context familiar to me, that sequence represents the flow of the Alchemical Great Work.
More apparent in the mineral and metal work texts of classical Alchemy, rather than our Spagyric plant work, this order of colours is considered a guide to otherwise confusing and changeable processes. It’s an order we see throughout many ancient texts, and seeing each colour arise in turn is a sign that the practitioner is connected to the work, and that it is proceeding correctly. Working within a system of thought which is often lyrical, image-based, and even deliberately confusing, this simple four-step guide is remarkably clear and consistent across centuries of Alchemy.
In his writings on Alchemy as a metaphoric process for individual spiritual growth, Carl Jung also noticed this four-fold process, and in “Problems of Modern Psychotherapy”, he used them as the structure for the therapeutic stages of psychoanalysis. Like the Alchemist over his lab work, Jung believed that the therapist must guide his patient’s inner work through each in turn, helping the patient to achieve the lessons of each one before moving to the next and eventually, to a more whole state of being.
In my mind, this is where we turn back to the Caapi vine, and to the unique energies of each colour it offers, and to how they connect with the different stages of the Alchemical opus and the inner Jungian work that mirrors it.
Black Caapi is the “heaviest” of the four, with the most intense energy and lessons. Traditionally, it is used for “witchcraft” and “sorcery”, or what we would consider Magick. That is, the direction of energy to affect change in the outer world according to the Will of the practitioner.
In Alchemy, the first stage of Black is called Nigredo, and it is a stage of burning, of destruction that is a purification, and which opens the way for later creation. In our plant work, after the alcohol extractions are done, there is still medicine left in the plant, but it is in mineral form which is not soluble in alcohol, being still locked up in a matrix of the plant’s physical self. Fire is destructive at any other phase of the process, but this level is the most resistant to change, and needs the harsh opening of the flames to be accessible for extraction.
In Jung’s work, this step relates to “Confession”, the embracing of the shadow aspects of the self, which can be accompanied by anger, fear, and frustration. I see this energy in the changes in the world around us right now, in the literal fires of protests and the symbolic fire in calls to completely destroy the old, change-resistant structures so that new ones can be envisioned.
Black Caapi is an ally for this kind of work, as it brings up the shadow self so that it can be a source of Magickal power, either through its integration back into the self, or its projection at outer structures that impede growth. Here, I think of the energy of the eclipse, and how it can be used Magickally to cast destructive forces into obscurity and darkness. It’s an aggressive path, and not the right tool for every action, but some of the darkest remnants of ourselves and our society are so resistant to change that this is the only solution.
Once the fires have consumed all that couldn’t be changed by any other energy, we are left with ashes. In our work, the washing of these ashes creates the beautiful crystalline structures of the plant salts, their minerals purified so much that they shine with light. Jung called this stage of the therapy “Illumination”, and he focused it on communication between the conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche.
In classic Alchemy, this stage also has a dual nature, for here we divide the material into two opposite qualities, to be reconciled and unified later, but for now, they are held as opposites in the same space together, like the conscious and unconscious mind.
In my experience with White Caapi, this duality is expressed as humour, so much so that we call this variety the “Happy Caapi”. Lighthearted and gentle in many ways, White Caapi shines light on the subconscious through amusing ideas and images, poking at fears and worries in cartoonish but edgy ways, making light of them so that they can be faced with less fear.
If Black Caapi was eclipse, White is apocalypse in the real sense of the word. We think of doom and destruction when we hear that word, but it literally just means unveiling or uncovering, everything that was hidden exposed, the opposite of the obscuring darkness of eclipse. We’re starting to see much of that societally right now as more attention shines on systemically oppressive structures in ways that seem to be finally getting through to many people.
We’re also seeing this in the trickster sense of the energy that I have always experienced from White Caapi, as prank, trick, and satire prove to be powerful political tools. The best humour holds opposing ideas in balance, playing off the cognitive dissonance of two truths that come together in a surprising way. The tension between them is where the humour lies, and it can be a sharp edge to stand on, but it is also insightful and brings the light of clarity. White Caapi is a great ally for finding that narrow path and walking it, either in our own inner world, or the outer one.
The third stage of the work, the Yellow, is more formally called the “yellowing of the Lunar consciousness” in Alchemy. Here, the white light of the Moon warms to yellow as the work begins to manifest the golden light of the Sun. This represents a shift from reflected Lunar light to the carrying of one’s own inner light, the Solar consciousness within each being, whether that being is a person or an Alchemical matter being born.
In the Spagyric process to make Spiritualized Essences or Magisteries, once the minerals are blackened by fire and then whitened to crystals, they are recombined with the liquid extract for a period of circulation. This recombined extract often turns to a soft yellow colour as the elements come together, and seems to glow from within as it sits in the flask, its whole self starting to reclaim its living intelligence again, reaching for a higher level than the original plant.
This dawning of deeper awareness is also seen in the Jungian conception of this stage, which he called Education. This is the step of finding the wise man or woman within the self, and of starting to connect with the shining intelligence of others, as well.
Like the Black and White, Yellow Caapi is part of a pair with the Red, both being traditionally used in healing ceremony. In that practice, the Yellow is taken by the patient receiving the healing, and the Red is taken by the healer as they guide the journey.
Yellow Caapi has a gentle and sweet energy, giving insights into the self, but not into the shadow self like Black, but into the best path for each person’s particular wisdom and gifts. Like the turning from the reflected light of the Moon to the inner light of the Sun, Yellow Caapi helps you see and use your own healing tools for bringing wholeness to yourself. I find the Yellow connects to the idea of the Wounded Healer, who finds the lessons in their own path from balance to imbalance, discovering the light of their own being along the way.
Yellow is also often associated with finding guides, either in the form of spirits, ancestors and other beings, or with animal energies and intelligences. This connects back to Jung’s idea of finding the wise person not only within the self, but also beginning to see it in others, too.
Our final phase of the work is the Red stage, representing the mature, completed work at its peak of perfection. Red is considered the King, and also relates to the mineral Gold, whose true inner colour of red can be seen when looking at the Sun through a thin sheet of the metal. Just as gold is the perfected state of the mineral realm, when the Alchemical process reaches the Red stage, it is perfected in its inner and outer being.
In our plant work, the Magistery that started with the golden light of the recombination of elements now reaches maturity after several weeks, and often, the material in the flask has turned a deep red as it is married together by the growth process of circulation. Red is the colour of blood and life, of new birth in the Magistery, and also in the Jungian work.
This stage was called Transformation by Jung, and the birth of the new self that is heralded by the redness brings you to finally personifying your authentic self and living your own mythic story.
Red Caapi is the counterpart to the Yellow, with the Shaman/healer taking it to lead the working and see into the patient to diagnose the problem. The path from Yellow to Red allows the healer to see and heal the imbalances of others, thanks to the journey they have undertaken through their own wounds.
Red Caapi is a strong ally for helpers of all kinds, from healers and light workers to activists, speakers, and anyone who takes action in the world to create positive change. Back in our traveling days, we set up booths at many conferences full of activists and changemakers, and Red Caapi was always a great support for their work in the world, helping them manifest their visions with clarity but also compassion for those still moving through the painful part of the journey.
I hope you have enjoyed this deep dive into the colours of Alchemy, inner growth, and the Caapi vine. One of the unique aspects of the Spagyric work is the way it draws out the unique gifts of each plant, or even of variants on the same plant, showing us the complexity and intelligence of the plant kingdom as equal to and supportive of our own beings.