The Spiracle in Alchemy and Art

Diane Fremont

“There is but one world, only there are many worlds within it, for it exists in more than one way at once; and these different ways cannot be translated into one another.”

                                                 (from John Crowley’s novel, “The Translator”)


The problem of “translating the untranslatable” was addressed by the 16th century alchemist Gerhard Dorn, with the notion of what he called the spiracle – in Latin, the Spiraculum Eternitatis, the window or breathing hole into eternity, which Jung writes about extensively as the conjunction of opposites in Mysterium Coniunctionis. The spiracle is described as a hole or passageway in the field of consciousness that allows the “autonomous dynamism of the collective unconscious” to break through into the realm of the personal unconscious. In this joining, it can, to some degree, be worked and translated into living, material reality, whether through word, image, other expressive means, or through lived life itself.  (von Franz, 1980)

I will explore the concept of the spiracle in alchemy and in relation to the creative process, as exemplified in the work of the artist Cy Twombly, who moved back and forth between Lexington, Virginia and his adopted Southern Italy. Twombly’s work also traversed the liminal space between ancient and modern, between literature and visual art and between writing, drawing, painting, photography, collage and sculpture, embodying the idea and operations of the spiracle by linking and overlapping these disparate genres.  In the studio, the inspiration of the artist, along with the tools, materials and medium, all co-create the protected space in which this passage and translation between worlds can take place. They show us ways in and ways out, ways through and ways between – giving entrée to the hidden, the unknown and the not-yet-manifest.

Read The Spiracle in Art and Alchemy in its entirety here.