Sublimatio is the alchemical process associated with air. Chemically, it could be represented by steam rising. Psychologically, it could be understood as moving above a situation in order to get an objective view.
In many spiritual systems, it’s understood that we live in the middle of things – as Tolkein would have it, Middle Earth. There are underworlds and upper worlds as well. My alchemy group understood Sublimatio as both ascending and descending, getting out of this middle world for awhile in order to see things differently. So when we began exploring this process through image making, Sublimatio showed itself most often in the form of a ladder. One participant, a psychotherapist, talked about therapy as a process of descending the ladder with a client and coming back up with something useful, building connections between the realms. Another person constructed a beautiful, tall tree-like structure that resembled a sail or hot air balloon, barely weighted down and looking as though it could catch the winds of the upper world at any moment and be pulled away.
In my own work, I saw a definite contrast between Coagulatio, in which we built stepping stones for a horizontal, Middle Earth path, and Sublimatio, for a vertical, between-worlds path. I was far more comfortable with Sublimatio. I almost always prefer to rise into the intellectual and spiritual, to see with the bird’s eye view, or to climb down to the unconscious archetypal depths. It was easy to construct a ladder, much harder to build a horizontal path for a journey in this world. The ladder felt old, well built and often used. The stepping stone was beautiful and difficult, new and untested.