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«***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK HIDDEN SYMBOLISM OF ALCHEMY AND THE OCCULT ARTS*** Hidden Symbolism of ALCHEMY and the OCCULT ARTS (Formerly ...»

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The egg is the World Egg that recurs in so many world cosmogonies. The grand mastery refers usually and mainly to thoughts of world creation. The egg-shaped receptacle in which the master work was to be accomplished was also known as the “philosophical egg” in which the great masterpiece is produced. This vessel was sealed with the magic seal of Hermes;

therefore hermetically sealed.

A wider theoretical conception, originating with the Arabs, is the doctrine of the two principles. They were retained in the subsequent developments and further expanded. Ibn Sina [Avicenna, 980-ca. 1037] taught that every metal consisted of mercury and sulphur. Naturally they do not refer to the ordinary [117] quicksilver and ordinary sulphur.

From the Arabs alchemy came to the occident and spread extraordinarily. Among prominent authors the following may be selected: Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Vincent of Beauvais, Arnold of Villanova, Thomas Aquinas, Raymond Lully, etc.

The amount of material that could be adduced is enormous.

It is not necessary, however, to consider it. What I have stated about the beginnings of alchemy is sufficient in amount to enable the reader to understand the following exposition of the alchemic content of the parable. And what I must supply in addition to the 92 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts alchemic theories of the time of their prevalence in the west, the reader will learn incidentally from the following analysis.

In concluding this preliminary view I must still mention one novelty that Paracelsus (1493-1541) introduced into the theory. Ibn Sina had taught that two principles entered into the constitution of metals. Mercury is the bearer of the metallic property and sulphur has the nature of the combustible and is the cause of the transmutation of metals in fire. The doctrine of the two principles leads to the theory that for the production of gold it was necessary to get from metals the purest possible sulphur and mercury, in order to produce gold by the union of both.

Paracelsus now adds to the two principles a third, salt, as the element of fixedness or palpability, as he terms it. According to my notion, Paracelsus has not introduced an essential innovation, but only used in a new systematic terminology what others said [118] before him, even if they did not follow it out so consistently. The

principles mercury, sulphur and salt—their symbols are [Symbol:

Mercury], [Symbol: Sulphur] and [Symbol: Salt]—were among the followers of the alchemists very widely used in their technical language. They were frequently also called spirit, soul and body.

They were taken in threes but also as before in twos, according to the exigencies of the symbolism.

The alchemists' usual coupling of the planets with metals is probably due to the Babylonians. I reproduce these correspondences here in the form they generally had in alchemy.

I must beg the reader to impress them upon his memory, as alchemy generally speaks of the metals by their planetary names.

According to the ancient view (even if not the most ancient) there are seven planets (among which was the sun) and seven metals.

–  –  –

Relative to the technical language, which I must use in the following discussion also, I have to make a remark of general application that should be carefully remembered. It is a peculiarity of the alchemistic authors to use interchangeably [119] fifty or more names for a thing and on the other hand to give one and the same name many meanings. This custom was originally caused partly by the uncertainty of the concepts, which has been mentioned above. But this uncertainty does not explain why, in spite of increase of knowledge, the practice was continued and purposely developed. We shall speak later of the causes that were active there. Let it first be understood merely that it was the case and later be it explained how it comes about that we can find our way in the hermetic writings in spite of the strange freedom of terminology that confuses terms purposely and constantly. Apart from a certain practice in the figurative language of the alchemists, it is necessary, so to speak, to think independently of the words used and regard them only in their context. For example, when it is written that a body is to be washed with water, another time with soap, and a third time with mercury, it is not water and soap and mercury that is the main point but the relation of all to each other, that is the washing and on closer inspection of the connection it can be deduced that all three times the same cleansing medium is meant, only described three times with different names.

The alchemistic interpretation of our parable is a development of what its author tried to teach by it. We do not need to show that he pursues an hermetic aim, for he says so himself, and so do the circumstances, i.e., the book, in which the parable is 94 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts found. In this respect we shall fare better in the alchemistic [120] exposition than in the psychoanalytic, where we were aiming at the unconscious. Now we have the conscious aim before us and we advance with the author, while before we worked as it were against his understanding, and deduced from the product of his mind things that his conscious personality would hardly admit, if we had him living before us; in which case we should be instructing him and informing him of the interpretation afforded by psychoanalysis.





In one respect we are therefore better off, but in another we are much worse off. For the matter in which we previously worked, the unconscious, remains approximately the same throughout great periods; the unconscious of the wanderer is in its fundamentals not very different from that of a man of to-day or from that of Zosimos. [Zosimos is one of the oldest alchemistic writers of whom we have any definite knowledge—about the 4th century.] It is the soul of the race that speaks, its “humanity.” Much more swiftly, on the contrary, does objective knowledge change in the course of time and the forms also in which this knowledge is expressed. From this point of view the conscious is more difficult of access than the unconscious. And now we have to face a system so very far removed from our way of thinking as the alchemistic.

Fortunately I need not regard it as my duty to explain the parable so completely in the alchemistic sense that any one could work according to it in a chemical laboratory. It is much more suitable to our purpose if I show in general outline only how we [121] must arrange the leading forms and processes of the parable to accord with the mode of thinking peculiar to alchemy. If I should succeed in doing so clearly, we should already have passed a difficult stage. Then for the first time I might venture further—to the special object of this research. But patience! We have not yet gone so far.

First of all it will be necessary for me to draw in a few lines Section II. Alchemy. 95 a sketch of how, in the most flourishing period of alchemy, the accomplishment of the Great Work was usually described.

In spite of the diversity of the representations we find certain fundamental principles which are in general firmly established. I will indicate a few points of this iron-clad order in the alchemic doctrine.

There is, in the first place, the central idea of the interaction or the coöperation of two things that are generally called man and woman, red and white, sun and moon, sulphur and mercury.

We have already seen in Ibn Sina that the metals consist of the combination of sulphur and mercury. Even earlier the interaction of two parts were figuratively called impregnation. Both fuse into one symbol, and indeed so much the more readily, as it probably arose as the result of analogous thoughts, determined by a sexual complex. Also there occurs the idea that we must derive a male activity from the gold, a female from the silver, in order to get from their union that which perfects the mercury of the metals. That may be the reason that, for the above mentioned pair that is to be united, the denotation gold and silver ([Symbol: [122] Gold] and [Symbol: Silver]) prevailed. Red and white = man and woman (male and female activity), we found in the parable also when studied psychoanalytically.

In the “Turba philosophorum” “the woman is called Magnesia, the white, the man is called red, sulphur.” Morienus says. “Our stone is like the creation of man. For first we have the union, 2, the corruption [i.e., the putrefaction of the seed], 3, the gestation, 4, the birth of the child, 5, the nutrition follows.” Both constituents come from one root. Therefore the authors inform us that the stone is an only one. If we call the matter “mercury,” we therefore generally speak of a doubled mercury that yet is only one.

Arnold (Ros., II, 17): “So it clearly appears that the philosophers spoke the truth about it, although it seems 96 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts impossible to simpletons and fools, that there was indeed only one stone, one medicine, one regulation, one work, one vessel, both identical with the white and red sulphur, and to be made at the same time.” Id. (Ros., I, 6): “For there is only one stone, one medicine, to which nothing foreign is added and nothing taken away except that one separates the superfluities from it.” Herein lies the idea of purification or washing; it occurs again. Arnold (Ros., II, 8): “Now when you have separated the elements, then wash them.” [123] The idea of washing is connected with that of mechanical purification, trituration, dismemberment in the parable, grinding (mill), and with the bath and solution (dissolution of the bridal pair). “Bath” is, on the other hand, the surrounding vessel, water bath. Arnold (Ros., I, 9): “The true beginning, therefore, is the dissolution and solution of the stone.” Fire can also cause a dissolution, either by fusion or by a trituration that is similar to calcination. They are all processes that put the substances in question into its purest or chemically most accessible form.

Arnold (Ros., I, 9): “The philosophical work is to dissolve and melt the stone into its mercury, so that it is reduced and brought back to its prima materia, i.e., original condition, purest form.” Through the opening of the single substance the two things or seeds, red and white, are obtained.

But what is the “subject” that is put through these operations, the matter that must be so worked out? That is exactly what the alchemists most conceal. They give the prima materia (raw material) a hundred names, every one of which is a riddle.

They give intimations of interpretations but are not willing to be definite. Only the worthy will find the keys to the whole work.

The rest of the procedure can be understood only by one that knows the prima materia. Much is written on it and its puzzling names. They are, partly as raw material, partly as original material, partly as prime condition, called among other names Section II. Alchemy. 97 Lapis philosophicus (philosopher's stone), aqua vitæ (water of [124] life), venenum (poison), spiritus (spirit), medicina (medicine), cœlum (sky), nubes (clouds), ros (dew), umbra (shadow), stella signata (marked star), and Lucifer, Luna (moon), aqua ardens (fiery water), sponsa (betrothed), coniux (wife), mater, mother (Eve),—from her princes are born to the king,—virgo (virgin), lac virginis (virgin's milk), menstruum, materia hermaphrodita catholica Solis et Lunae (Catholic hermaphrodite matter of sun and moon), sputum Lunae (moon spittle), urina puerorum (children's urine), fæces dissolutæ (loose stool), fimus (muck), materia omnium formarum (material of all forms), Venus.

It will be evident to the psychoanalyst that the original material is occasionally identified with secretions and excretions, spittle, milk, dung, menstruum, urine. These correspond exactly to the infantile theories of procreation, as does the fact that these theories come to view where the phantasy forms symbols in its primitive activity. It is also to be noticed that countless alchemic scribblers who did not understand the works of the “masters” worked with substances like urine, semen, spittle, dung, blood, menstruum, etc., where the dim idea of a procreative essence in these things came into play. I will have something to say on this subject in connection with the Homunculus. I should meanwhile like to refer to the close relationship of excrement and gold in myth and folklore. [Cf. Note B at the end of this volume.] It is clear that for the art of gold production this mythological [125] relationship is of importance.

To the action of analyzing substances before the reassembling or rebuilding, besides washing and trituration, belongs also putrefaction or rotting. Without this no fruitful work is possible. I have previously mentioned that it was thought that semen must rot in order to impregnate. The seed grain is subject to putrefaction in the earth. But we must remember also the impregnating activity of manure if we wish to understand correctly and genetically the association rot—procreate. Putrefaction is one of the forms 98 Hidden Symbolism of Alchemy and the Occult Arts of corruption (= breaking up) and corruptio unius est generatio alterius (the breaking up of one is the begetting of another).

Arnold (Ros., I, 9): “In so far as the substances here do not become incorporeal or volatile, so that there is no more substance [as such therefore destroyed] you will accomplish nothing in your work.” The red man and the white woman, called also red lions and white lilies, and many other names, are united and cooked together in a vessel, the philosophical Egg. The combined material becomes thereby gradually black (and is called raven or ravenhead), later white (swan); now a somewhat greater heat is applied and the substance is sublimated in the vessel (the swan flies up); on further heating a vivid play of colors appears (peacock tail or rainbow); finally the substance becomes red and that is the conclusion of the main work. The red substance is the [126] philosopher's stone, called also our king, red lion, grand elixir, etc. The after work is a subsequent elaboration by which the stone is given still more power, “multiplied” in its efficiency.



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