Salt as the Arcane Substance (2023)

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Salt as the Arcane Substance (1)


Salt as the Arcane Substance

[234] In this section I shall discuss not only salt but a number of symbolisms that are closely connected with it, such as the bitterness of the sea, sea-water and its baptismal quality, which in turn relates it to the Red Sea. I have included the latter in the scope of my observations but not the symbol of the sea as such. Since Luna symbolizes the unconscious, Sal, as one of its attri butes, is a special instance of the lunar symbolism. This explains the length of the present entire chapter: extensive digressions are necessary in order to do justice to the various aspects of the unconscious that are expressed by salt, and at the same time to explain their psychological meaning.

[235] Owing to the theory of correspondentia, regarded as axiomatic in the Middle Ages, the principles of each of the four worlds the intelligible or divine, the heavenly, the earthly, and the infernal379corresponded to each other. Usually, however, there was a division into three worlds to correspond with the Trinity: heaven, earth, hell.380 Triads were also known in alchemy. From the time of Paracelsus the most important triad was Sulphur-Mercurius-Sal, which was held to correspond with the Trinity. Georg von Welling, the plagiarist of Johann Rudolf Glauber, still thought in 1735 that his triad of fire, sun, and salt381 was in its root entirely one thing.382 The use of the Trinity formula in alchemy is so common that further documentation is unnecessary. A subtle feature of the Sulphur-Mercurius-Sal formula is that the central figure, Mercurius, is by nature androgynous and thus partakes both of the masculine red sulphur and of the lunar salt.383 His equivalent in the celestial realm is the planetary pair Sol and Luna, and in the intelligible realm Christ in his mystical androgyny, the man encompassed by the woman,384 i.e., sponsus and sponsa (Ecclesia). Like the Trinity, the alchemical triunity is a quaternity in disguise owing to the duplicity of the central figure: Mercurius is not only split into a masculine and a feminine half, but is the poisonous dragon and at the same time the heavenly lapis. This makes it clear that the dragon is analogous to the devil and the lapis to Christ, in accordance with the ecclesiastical view of the devil as an autonomous counterpart of Christ. Furthermore, not only the dragon but the negative aspect of sulphur, namely sulphur comburens, is identical with the devil, as Glauber says: Verily, sulphur is the true black devil of hell, who can be conquered by no element save by salt alone.385 Salt by contrast is a light substance, similar to the lapis, as we shall see.

[236] From all this we get the following schema:

[237] Here we have another of those well-known quaternities of opposites which are usually masked as a triad, just as the Christian Trinity is able to maintain itself as such only by eliminating the fourth protagonist of the divine drama. If he were included there would be, not a Trinity, but a Christian Quaternity. For a long time there had been a psychological need for this, as is evident from the medieval pictures of the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin; it was also responsible for elevating her to the position of mediatrix, corresponding to Christs position as the mediator, with the difference that Mary only transmits grace but does not generate it. The recent promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption emphasizes the taking up not only of the soul but of the body of Mary into the Trinity, thus making a dogmatic reality of those medieval representations of the quaternity which are constructed on the following pattern:

Only in 1950, after the teaching authority in the Church had long deferred it, and almost a century after the declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, did the Pope, moved by a growing wave of popular petitions,386 feel compelled to declare the Assumption as a revealed truth. All the evidence shows that the dogmatization was motivated chiefly by the religious need of the Catholic masses. Behind this stands the archetypal numen of feminine deity,387 who, at the Council of Ephesus in 431, imperiously announced her claim to the title of Theotokos (God-bearer), as distinct from that of a mere Anthropotokos (man-bearer) accorded to her by the Nestorian rationalists.

[238] The taking up of the body had long been emphasized as an historical and material event, and the alchemists could therefore make use of the representations of the Assumption in describing the glorification of matter in the opus. The illustration of this process in Reusners Pandora388 shows, underneath the coronation scene, a kind of shield between the emblems of Matthew and Luke, on which is depicted the extraction of Mercurius from the prima materia. The extracted spirit appears in monstrous form: the head is surrounded by a halo, and reminds us of the traditional head of Christ, but the arms are snakes and the lower half of the body resembles a stylized fishs tail.389 This is without doubt the anima mundi who has been freed from the shackles of matter, the filius macrocosmi or Mercurius-Anthropos, who, because of his double nature, is not only spiritual and physical but unites in himself the morally highest and lowest.390 The illustration in Pandora points to the great secret which the alchemists dimly felt was implicit in the Assumption. The proverbial darkness of sublunary matter has always been associated with the prince of this world, the devil. He is the metaphysical figure who is excluded from the Trinity but who, as the counterpart of Christ, is the sine qua non of the drama of redemption.391 His equivalent in alchemy is the dark side of Mercurius duplex and, as we saw, the active sulphur. He also conceals himself in the poisonous dragon, the preliminary, chthonic form of the lapis aethereus. To the natural philosophers of the Middle Ages, and to Dorn in particular, it was perfectly clear that the triad must be complemented by a fourth, as the lapis had always been regarded as a quaternity of elements. It did not disturb them that this would necessarily involve the evil spirit. On the contrary, the dismemberment and self-devouring of the dragon probably seemed to them a commendable operation. Dorn, however, saw in the quaternity the absolute opposite of the Trinity, namely the female principle, which seemed to him of the devil, for which reason he called the devil the four-horned serpent. This insight must have given him a glimpse into the core of the problem.392 In his refutation he identified woman with the devil because of the number two, which is characteristic of both. The devil, he thought, was the binarius itself, since it was created on the second day of Creation, on Monday, the day of the moon, on which God failed to express his pleasure, this being the day of doubt and separation.393 Dorn puts into words what is merely hinted at in the Pandora illustration.

[239] If we compare this train of thought with the Christian quaternity which the new dogma has virtually produced (but has not defined as such), it will immediately be apparent that we have here an upper quaternio which is supraordinate to mans wholeness and is psychologically comparable to the Moses quaternio of the Gnostics.394 Man and the dark abyss of the world, the deus absconditus, have not yet been taken up into it. Alchemy, however, is the herald of a still-unconscious drive for maximal integration which seems to be reserved for a distant future, even though it originated with Origens doubt concerning the ultimate fate of the devil.395

[240] In philosophical alchemy, salt is a cosmic principle. According to its position in the quaternity, it is correlated with the feminine, lunar side and with the upper, light half. It is therefore not surprising that Sal is one of the many designations for the arcane substance. This connotation seems to have developed in the early Middle Ages under Arabic influence. The oldest traces of it can be found in the Turba, where salt-water and sea-water are synonyms for the aqua permanens,396 and in Senior, who says that Mercurius is made from salt.397 His treatise is one of the earliest authorities in Latin alchemy. Here Sal Alkali also plays the role of the arcane substance, and Senior mentions that the dealbatio was called salsatura (marination).398 In the almost equally old Allegoriae sapientum the lapis is described as salsus (salty).399 Arnaldus de Villanova (1235?1313) says: Whoever possesses the salt that can be melted, and the oil that cannot be burned, may praise God.400 It is clear from this that salt is an arcane substance. The Rosarium, which leans very heavily on the old Latin sources, remarks that the whole secret lies in the prepared common salt,401 and that the root of the art is the soap of the sages (sapo sapientum), which is the mineral of all salts and is called the bitter salt (sal amarum).402 Whoever knows the salt knows the secret of the old sages.403 Salts and alums are the helpers of the stone.404 Isaac Hollandus calls salt the medium between the terra sulphurea and the water. God poured a certain salt into them in order to unite them, and the sages named this salt the salt of the wise.405

[241] Among later writers, salt is even more clearly the arcane substance. For Mylius it is synonymous with the tincture;406 it is the earth-dragon who eats his own tail, and the ash, the diadem of thy heart.407 The salt of the metals is the lapis.408 Basilius Valentinus speaks of a sal spirituale.409 It is the seat of the virtue which makes the art possible,410 the most noble treasury,411 the good and noble salt, which though it has not the form of salt from the beginning, is nevertheless called salt; it becomes impure and pure of itself, it dissolves and coagulates itself, or, as the sages say, locks and unlocks itself;412 it is the quintessence, above all things and in all creatures.413 The whole magistery lies in the salt and its solution.414 The permanent radical moisture consists of salt.415 It is synonymous with the incombustible oil,416 and is altogether a mystery to be concealed.417

[242] As the arcane substance, it is identified with various synonyms for the latter. Above all it is an ens centrale. For Khunrath salt is the physical centre of the earth.418 For Vigenerus it is a component of that virginal and pure earth which is contained in the centre of all composite elementals, or in the depths of the same.419 Glauber calls salt the concentrated centre of the elements.420

[243] Although the arcane substance is usually identified with Mercurius, the relation of salt to Mercurius is seldom mentioned. Senior, as we noted, says that by divers operations Mercurius is made from salt,421 and Khunrath identifies Mercurius with common salt.422 The rarity of the identification strikes us just because the salt of the wise really implies its relation to Mercurius. I can explain this only on the supposition that salt did not acquire its significance until later times and then at once appeared as an independent figure in the Sulphur-Mercurius-Sal triad.

[244] Salt also has an obvious relation to the earth, not to the earth as such, but to our earth, by which is naturally meant the arcane substance.423 This is evident from the aforementioned identification of salt with the earth-dragon. The full text of Mylius runs:

What remains below in the retort is our salt, that is, our earth, and it is of a black colour, a dragon that eats his own tail. For the dragon is the matter that remains behind after the distillation of water from it, and this water is called the dragons tail, and the dragon is its blackness, and the dragon is saturated with his water and coagulated, and so he eats his tail.424

The rarely mentioned relation of salt to the nigredo425 is worth noting here, for because of its proverbial whiteness salt is constantly associated with the albedo. On the other hand we would expect the close connection between salt and water, which is in fact already implicit in the sea-water. The aqua pontica plays an important role as a synonym for the aqua permanens, as also does mare (sea). That salt, as well as Luna, is an essential component of this is clear from Vigenerus: There is nothing wherein the moisture lasts longer, or is wetter, than salt, of which the sea for the most part consists. Neither is there anything wherein the moon displays her motion more clearly than the sea, as can be seen . . . from its ebb and flow. Salt, he says, has an inexterminable humidity, and that is the reason why the sea cannot be dried up.426 Khunrath identifies the femina alba or candida with the crystalline salt, and this with the white water.427 Our water cannot be made without salt,428 and without salt the opus will not succeed.429 According to Rupescissa (ca. 1350), salt is water, which the dryness of the fire has coagulated.430

  1. The Bitterness

[245] Inseparable from salt and sea is the quality of amaritudo, bitterness. The etymology of Isidore of Seville was accepted all through the Middle Ages: Mare ab amaro.431 Among the alchemists the bitterness became a kind of technical term. Thus, in the treatise Rosinus ad Euthiciam,432 there is the following dialogue between Zosimos and Theosebeia: This is the stone that hath in it glory and colour. And she: Whence cometh its colour? He replied: From its exceeding strong bitterness. And she: Whence cometh its bitterness and intensity? He answered: From the impurity of its metal. The treatise Rosinus ad Sarratantam episcopum433 says: Take the stone that is black, white, red, and yellow, and is a wonderful bird that flies without wings in the blackness of the night and the brightness of the day: in the bitterness that is in its throat the colouring will be found. Each thing in its first matter is corrupt and bitter, says Ripley. The bitterness is a tincturing poison.434 And Mylius: Our stone is endowed with the strongest spirit, bitter and brazen (aeneus);435 and the Rosarium mentions that salt is bitter because it comes from the mineral of the sea.436 The Liber Alze437 says: O nature of this wondrous thing, which transforms the body into spirit! . . . When it is found alone it conquers all things, and is an excellent, harsh, and bitter acid, which transmutes gold into pure spirit.438

[246] These quotations clearly allude to the sharp taste of salt and sea-water. The reason why the taste is described as bitter and not simply as salt may lie first of all in the inexactness of the language, since amarus also means sharp, biting, harsh, and is used metaphorically for acrimonious speech or a wounding joke. Besides this, the language of the Vulgate had an important influence as it was one of the main sources for medieval Latin. The moral use which the Vulgate consistently makes of amarus and amaritudo gives them, in alchemy as well, a nuance that cannot be passed over. This comes out clearly in Ripleys remark that each thing in its first matter is corrupt and bitter. The juxtaposition of these two attri butes indicates the inner connection between them: corruption and bitterness are on the same footing, they denote the state of imperfect bodies, the initial state of the prima materia. Among the best known synonyms for the latter are the chaos and the sea, in the classical, mythological sense denoting the beginning of the world, the sea in particular being conceived as the

, matrix of all creatures.439 The prima materia is often called aqua pontica. The salt that comes from the mineral of the sea is by its very nature bitter, but the bitterness is due also to the impurity of the imperfect body. This apparent contradiction is explained by the report of Plutarch that the Egyptians regarded the sea as something impure and untrustworthy (

), and as the domain of Typhon (Set); they called salt the spume of Typhon.440 In his Philosophia reformata, Mylius mentions sea-spume together with the purged or purified sea, rock-salt, the bird, and Luna as equivalent synonyms for the lapis occultus.441 Here the impurity of the sea is indirectly indicated by the epithets purged or purified. The sea-spume is on a par with the salt andof particular interestwith the bird, naturally the bird of Hermes, and this throws a sudden light on the above passage from Rosinus, about the bird with bitterness in its throat. The bird is a parallel of salt because salt is a spirit,442 a volatile substance, which the alchemists were wont to conceive as a bird.

[247] As the expulsion of the spirit was effected by various kinds of burning (combustio, adustio, calcinatio, assatio, sublimatio, incineratio, etc.), it was natural to call the end-product ashagain in a double sense as scoria, faex, etc., and as the spirit or bird of Hermes. Thus the Rosarium says: Sublime with fire, until the spirit which thou wilt find in it [the substance] goeth forth from it, and it is named the bird or the ash of Hermes. Therefore saith Morienus: Despise not the ashes, for they are the diadem of thy heart, and the ash of things that endure.443 In other words, the ash is the spirit that dwells in the glorified body.

[248] This bird or spirit is associated with various colours. At first the bird is black, then it grows white feathers, which finally become coloured.444 The Chinese cousin of the avis Hermetis, the scarlet bird, moults in a similar way.445 We are told in the treatise of Wei Po-yang: The fluttering Chu-niao flies the five colours.446 They are arranged as follows:

[249] Earth occupies the central position as the fifth element, though it is not the quintessence and goal of the work but rather its basis, corresponding to terra as the arcane substance in Western alchemy.447

[250] As regards the origin and meaning of the avis Hermetis, I would like to mention the report of Aelian that the ibis is dear to Hermes, the father of words, since in its form it resembles the nature of the Logos; for its blackness and swift flight could be compared to the silent and introverted [

] Logos, but its whiteness to the Logos already uttered and heard, which is the servant and messenger of the inner word.448

[251] It is not easy for a modern mind to conceive salt, a cold-damp, lunar-terrestrial substance, as a bird and a spirit. Spirit, as the Chinese conceive it, is yang, the fiery and dry element, and this accords with the views of Heraclitus as well as with the Christian concept of the Holy Ghost as tongues of fire. Luna, we have seen, is unquestionably connected with mens, manas, mind, etc. But these connections are of a somewhat ambiguous nature. Although the earth can boast of an earth-spirit and other daemons, they are after all spirits and not spirit. The cold side of nature is not lacking in spirit, but it is a spirit of a special kind, which Christianity regarded as demonic and which therefore found no acclaim except in the realm of the magical arts and sciences. This spirit is the snake-like Nous or Agathodaimon, which in Hellenistic syncretism merges together with Hermes. Christian allegory and iconography also took possession of it on the basis of John 3 : 14: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. The mercurial serpent or spirit Mercurius is the personification and living continuation of the spirit who, in the prayer entitled the Secret Inscription in the Great Magic Papyrus of Paris, is invoked as follows:

Greetings, entire edifice of the Spirit of the air, greetings, Spirit that penetratest from heaven to earth, and from earth, which abideth in the midst of the universe, to the uttermost bounds of the abyss, greetings, Spirit that penetratest into me, and shakest me. . . . Greetings, beginning and end of irremovable Nature, greetings, thou who revolvest the elements that untiringly render service, greetings, brightly shining sun, whose radiance ministereth to the world, greetings, moon shining by night with disc of fickle brilliance, greetings, all ye spirits of the demons of the air. . . . O great, greatest, incomprehensible fabric of the world, formed in a circle! . . . dwelling in the aether, having the form of water, of earth, of fire, of wind, of light, of darkness, star-glittering, damp-fiery-cold Spirit! [


[252] Here is a magnificent description of a spirit that is apparently the exact opposite of the Christian pneuma. This antique spirit is also the spirit of alchemy, which today we can interpret as the unconscious projected into heavenly space and external objects. Although declared to be the devil by the early Christians, it should not be identified outright with evil; it merely has the uncomfortable quality of being beyond good and evil, and it gives this perilous quality to anyone who identifies with it, as we can see from the eloquent case of Nietzsche and the psychic epidemic that came after him. This spirit that is beyond good and evil is not the same as being six thousand feet above good and evil, but rather the same distance below it, or better, before it. It is the spirit of the chaotic waters of the beginning, before the second day of Creation, before the separation of the opposites and hence before the advent of consciousness. That is why it leads those whom it overcomes neither upwards nor beyond, but back into chaos. This spirit corresponds to that part of the psyche which has not been assimilated to consciousness and whose transformation and integration are the outcome of a long and wearisome opus. The artifex was, in his way, conscious enough of the dangers of the work, and for this reason his operations consisted largely of precautions whose equivalents are the rites of the Church.

[253] The alchemists understood the return to chaos as an essential part of the opus. It was the stage of the nigredo and mortificatio, which was then followed by the purgatorial fire and the albedo. The spirit of chaos is indispensable to the work, and it cannot be distinguished from the gift of the Holy Ghost any more than the Satan of the Old Testament can be distinguished from Yahweh. The unconscious is both good and evil and yet neither, the matrix of all potentialities.

[254] After these remarkswhich seemed to me necessaryon the salt-spirit, as Khunrath calls it, let us turn back to the amaritudo. As the bitter salt comes from the impure sea, it is understandable that the Gloria mundi should call it mostly black and evil-smelling in the beginning.450 The blackness and bad smell, described by the alchemists as the stench of the graves, pertain to the underworld and to the sphere of moral darkness. This impure quality is common also to the corruptio, which, as we saw, Ripley equates with bitterness. Vigenerus describes salt as corruptible, in the sense that the body is subject to corruption and decay and does not have the fiery and incorruptible nature of the spirit.451

[255] The moral use of qualities that were originally physical is clearly dependent, particularly in the case of a cleric like Ripley, on ecclesiastical language. About this I can be brief, as I can rely on Rahners valuable Antenna Crucis II: Das Meer der Welt. Here Rahner brings together all the patristic allegories that are needed to understand the alchemical symbolism. The patristic use of mare is defined by St. Augustine: Mare saeculum est (the sea is the world).452 It is the essence of the world, as the element . . . subject to the devil. St. Hilary says: By the depths of the sea is meant the seat of hell.453 The sea is the gloomy abyss, the remains of the original pit,454 and hence of the chaos that covered the earth. For St. Augustine this abyss is the realm of power allotted to the devil and demons after their fall.455 It is on the one hand a deep that cannot be reached or comprehended456 and on the other the depths of sin.457 For Gregory the Great the sea is the depths of eternal death.458 Since ancient times it was the abode of water-demons.459 There dwells Leviathan (Job 3 : 8),460 who in the language of the Fathers signifies the devil. Rahner documents the patristic equations: diabolus = draco = Leviathan = cetus magnus = aspis (adder, asp) = draco.461 St. Jerome says: The devil surrounds the seas and the ocean on all sides.462 The bitterness of salt-water is relevant in this connection, as it is one of the peculiarities of hell and damnation which must be fully tasted by the meditant in Loyolas Exercises. Point 4 of Exercise V says he must, in imagination, taste with the taste bitter things, as tears, sadness, and the worm of conscience.463 This is expressed even more colourfully in the Spiritual Exercises of the Jesuit Sebastian Izquierdo (1686): Fourthly, the taste will be tormented with a rabid hunger and thirst, with no hope of alleviation; and its food will be bitter wormwood, and its drink water of gall.464

  1. The Red Sea

[256] It might almost be one of the alchemical paradoxes that the Red Sea, in contrast to the significance ordinarily attached to mare, is a term for the healing and transforming baptismal water,465 and is thus an equivalent of the alchemical aqua pontica. St. Augustine says, The Red Sea signifies baptism;466 and, according to Honorius of Autun, the Red Sea is the baptism reddened by the blood of Christ, in which our enemies, namely our sins, are drowned.467

[257] We must also mention the Peratic interpretation of the Red Sea. The Red Sea drowned the Egyptians, but the Egyptians were all non-knowers (

). The exodus from Egypt signifies the exodus from the body, which is Egypt in miniature, being the incarnation of sinfulness, and the crossing (

)468 of the Red Sea is the crossing of the water of corruption, which is Kronos. The other side of the Red Sea is the other side of Creation. The arrival in the desert is a genesis outside of generation (

). There the gods of destruction and the god of salvation are all together.469 The Red Sea is a water of death for those that are unconscious, but for those that are conscious it is a baptismal water of rebirth and transcendence.470 By unconscious are meant those who have no gnosis, i.e., are not enlightened as to the nature and destiny of man in the cosmos. In modern language it would be those who have no knowledge of the contents of the personal and collective unconscious. The personal unconscious is the shadow and the inferior function,471 in Gnostic terms the sinfulness and impurity that must be washed away by baptism. The collective unconscious expresses itself in the mythological teachings, characteristic of most mystery religions, which reveal the secret knowledge concerning the origin of all things and the way to salvation. Unconscious people who attempt to cross the sea without being purified and without the guidance of enlightenment are drowned; they get stuck in the unconscious and suffer a spiritual death in so far as they cannot get beyond their one-sidedness. To do this they would have to be more conscious of what is unconscious to them and their age, above all of the inner opposite, namely those contents to which the prevailing views are in any way opposed. This continual process of getting to know the counterposition in the unconscious I have called the transcendent function,472 because the confrontation of conscious (rational) data with those that are unconscious (irrational) necessarily results in a modification of standpoint. But an alteration is possible only if the existence of the other is admitted, at least to the point of taking conscious cognizance of it. A Christian of today, for instance, no longer ought to cling obstinately to a one-sided credo, but should face the fact that Christianity has been in a state of schism for four hundred years, with the result that every single Christian has a split in his psyche. Naturally this lesion cannot be treated or healed if everyone insists on his own standpoint. Behind those barriers he can rejoice in his absolute and consistent convictions and deem himself above the conflict, but outside them he keeps the conflict alive by his intransigence and continues to deplore the pig-headedness and stiff-neckedness of everybody else. It seems as if Christianity had been from the outset the religion of chronic squabblers, and even now it does everything in its power never to let the squabbles rest. Remarkably enough, it never stops preaching the gospel of neighbourly love.

[258] We should get along a lot better if we realized that the majority views of others are condoned by a minority in ourselves. Armed with this psychological insight, which today no longer has the character of revelation since common sense can grasp it, we could set out on the road to the union of the opposites and would then, as in the Peratic doctrine, come to the place where the gods of destruction and the god of salvation are together. By this is obviously meant the destructive and constructive powers of the unconscious. This coincidentia oppositorum forms a parallel to the Messianic state of fulfilment described in Isaiah 11 : 6ff. and 35 : 5ff., though with one important difference: the place of genesis outside of generationpresumably an opus contra naturam is clearly not paradise but

the desert and the wilderness. Everyone who becomes conscious of even a fraction of his unconscious gets outside his own time and social stratum into a kind of solitude, as our text remarks. But only there is it possible to meet the god of salvation. Light is manifest in the darkness, and out of danger the rescue comes. In his sermon on Luke 19: 12 Meister Eckhart says: And who can be nobler than the man who is born half of the highest and best the world has to offer, and half of the innermost ground of Gods nature and Gods loneliness? Therefore the Lord speaks in the prophet Hosea: I will lead the noble souls into the wilderness, and speak into their hearts. One with the One, One from the One, and in the One itself the One, eternally!473

[259] I have gone into this Hippolytus text at some length because the Red Sea was of special significance to the alchemists. Sermo LXII of the Turba mentions the Tyrian dye, which is extracted from our most pure Red Sea. It is the parallel of the tinctura philosophorum, which is described as black and is extracted from the sea.474 The old treatise Rosinus ad Euthiciam says: And know that our Red Sea is more tincturing than all seas, and that the poison,475 when it is cooked and becomes foul and discoloured, penetrates all bodies.476 The tincture is the dip and the baptismal water of the alchemists, here asserted to come from the Red Sea. This idea is understandable in view of the patristic and Gnostic interpretation of the Red Sea as the blood of Christ in which we are baptized; hence the paralleling of the tincture, salt, and aqua pontica with blood.477

[260] The Red Sea appears in a very peculiar manner in the Tractatus Aristotelis ad Alexandrum Magnum, where a recipe says:

Take the serpent, and place it in the chariot with four wheels, and let it be turned about on the earth until it is immersed in the depths of the sea, and nothing more is visible but the blackest dead sea. And there let the chariot with the wheels remain, until so many fumes rise up from the serpent that the whole surface [planities] becomes dry, and by desiccation sandy and black. All that is the earth which is no earth, but a stone lacking all weight. . . . [And when the fumes are precipitated in the form of rain,] you should bring the chariot from the water to dry land, and then you have placed the four wheels upon the chariot, and will obtain the result if you will advance further to the Red Sea, running without running, moving without motion [currens sine cursu, movens sine motu].478

[261] This curious text requires a little elucidation. The serpent is the prima materia, the Serpens Hermetis, which he [Hermes] sent to King Antiochus, that he might do battle with thee [Alexander] and thine army.479 The serpent is placed in the chariot of its vessel and is led hither and thither by the fourfold rotation of the natures, but it should be securely enclosed. The wheels are the wheels of the elements. The vessel or vehicle is the spherical tomb of the serpent.480 The fourfold rotation of the natures corresponds to the ancient tetrameria of the opus (its division into four parts), i.e., transformation through the four elements, from earth to fire. This symbolism describes in abbreviated form the essentials of the opus: the serpent of Hermes or the Agathodaimon, the Nous that animates the cold part of nature that is, the unconsciousis enclosed in the spherical vessel of diaphanous glass which, on the alchemical view, represents the world and the soul.481 The psychologist would see it rather as the psychic reflection of the world, namely, consciousness of the world and the psyche.482 The transformation corresponds to the psychic process of assimilation and integration by means of the transcendent function.483 This function unites the pairs of opposites, which, as alchemy shows, are arranged in a quaternio when they represent a totality. The totality appears in quaternary form only when it is not just an unconscious fact but a conscious and differentiated totality; for instance, when the horizon is thought of not simply as a circle that can be divided into any number of parts but as consisting of four clearly defined points. Accordingly, ones given personality could be represented by a continuous circle, whereas the conscious personality would be a circle divided up in a definite way, and this generally turns out to be a quaternity. The quaternity of basic functions of consciousness meets this requirement. It is therefore only to be expected that the chariot should have four wheels,484 to correspond with the four elements or natures. The chariot as a spherical vessel and as consciousness rests on the four elements or basic functions,485 just as the floating island where Apollo was born, Delos, rested on the four supports which Poseidon made for it. The wheels, naturally, are on the outside of the chariot and are its motor organs, just as the functions of consciousness facilitate the relation of the psyche to its environment. It must, however, be stressed that what we today call the schema of functions is archetypally prefigured by one of the oldest patterns of order known to man, namely the quaternity, which always represents a consciously reflected and differentiated totality. Quite apart from its almost universal incidence it also appears spontaneously in dreams as an expression of the total personality. The chariot of Aristotle can be understood in this sense as a symbol of the self.

[262] The recipe goes on to say that this symbolic vehicle should be immersed in the sea of the unconscious for the purpose of heating and incubation,486 corresponding to the state of tapas,487 incubation by means of self-heating. By this is obviously meant a state of introversion in which the unconscious content is brooded over and digested. During this operation all relations with the outside world are broken off; the feelers of perception and intuition, discrimination and valuation are withdrawn. The four wheels are placed upon the chariot: outside everything is quiet and still, but deep inside the psyche the wheels go on turning, performing those cyclic evolutions which bring the mandala of the total personality,488 the ground-plan of the self, closer to consciousness. But so long as consciousness has not completed the process of integration it is covered by the blackest dead sea, darkened by unconsciousness and oppressed by heat, as was the hero in the belly of the whale during the night sea journey.489 Through the incubation the snake-like content is vapourized, literally sublimated, which amounts to saying that it is recognized and made an object of conscious discrimination.

[263] The evaporatio is followed by the desiccation of the surface, which then appears sandy and black. Here the imagery changes: the allusion to the subsiding flood means psychologically that the black blanket of unconsciousness hiding the nascent symbol is drawn away. Arena (sand) is defined as the pure substance of the stone,490 and accordingly the text describes the regenerated earth as a stone lacking all weight. The text does not explain just why it is weightless, but it is evident that nothing material, which alone has weight, is left over, and all that remains is the psychic content of the projection.

[264] The opus is far from having come to an end at this point, for the nigredo (terra nigra) still prevails and the substance of the stone is still black. It is therefore necessary for the fumes (evaporationes) to precipitate and wash off the blackness, whence the whole earth becomes white. The rain now falls so copiously that the earth is almost turned into a sea. Hence the direction that the chariot should be brought to dry land. This is clearly another allusion to Noahs Ark and the flood.491 With the coming of the flood the previous state of chaos would be restored, and the result of the opus would again be swamped by unconsciousness. This motif recurs in the form of the dragon that pursued Leto and the woman crowned with stars (Rev. 12 : 1f.).

[265] If the chariot reaches dry land, this obviously means that the content has become visible and remains conscious, and then, says the text, you have placed the wheels upon the chariot.492 The four natures or elements are gathered together and are contained in the spherical vessel, i.e., the four aspects or functions are integrated with consciousness, so that the state of totality has almost been attained. Had it really been attained the opus would be consummated at this point, but the result (effectus) is obtained only by advancing further. The result therefore means something more than integration of the four natures. If we take the loading of the chariot as the conscious realization of the four functions, this does in fact denote only the possibility of remaining conscious of the whole previous material, that is, of the principal aspects of the psyche. The question then arises as to how all these divergent factors, previously kept apart by apparently insuperable incompatibilities, will behave, and what the ego is going to do about it.

[266] The singular image of the Nous-serpent enthroned on a chariot reminds us of the chariot-driving, snake-shaped gods of southern India, for instance on the immense black temple at Puri, which is itself a chariot of stone. I certainly dont want to suggest that there is any direct Indian influence in our text, for there is another model closer to hand, and that is Ezekiels vision of the four creatures, with the faces respectively of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. These four figures are associated with four wheels, their construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went.493 Together they formed the moving throne of a figure having the appearance of a man. In the Cabala this chariot (Merkabah) plays an important role as the vehicle on which the believers mount up to God and the human soul unites with the world-soul.

[267] An interpretation of the four wheels as the quadriga and vehicle of divinity is found in a window medallion by Suger, the twelfth-century maker of stained glass for the Abbey of Saint-Denis.494 The chariot which is depicted bears the inscription QUADRIGE AMINADAB,referring to the Song of Songs 6: 11 (DV): My soul troubled me for the chariots of Aminadab.495 God the Father stands on a four-wheeled chariot holding the crucifix before him. In the corners of the medallion are the four emblems of the evangelists, the Christian continuation of Ezekiels winged creatures. The four gospels form, as it were, a quaternary podium on which the Redeemer stands.

[268] Still another source might be Honorius of Autun. In his commentary on Song of Songs 6 : 11, he says that his animalis vita was troubled because the chariot signified the four evangelists. It was this chariot that the apostles and their followers had driven through the world. For Christ had said in the gospels: Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish (Luke 13: 3). And it was to him, Honorius, that the words were addressed: Return, return, O Shulamite (Song of Songs 6 : 13).496

[269] Psychologically the vision of Ezekiel is a symbol of the self consisting of four individual creatures and wheels, i.e., of different functions. Three of the faces are theriomorphic and only one anthropomorphic, which presumably means that only one function has reached the human level, whereas the others are still in an unconscious or animal state. The problem of three and four (trinity and quaternity) plays a great role in alchemy as the axiom of Maria497 and, like the vision of Ezekiel, is concerned with the God-image. The symbols of the self are as a rule symbols of totality, but this is only occasionally true of God-images. In the former the circle and the quaternity predominate, in the latter the circle and the trinity and this, moreover, only in the case of abstract representations, which are not the only ones to occur.

[270] These hints may throw a little light on the strange idea of the serpent-chariot. It is a symbol of the arcane substance and the quintessence, of the aether that contains all four elements, and at the same time a God-image or, to be more accurate, an image of the anima mundi. This is indicated by the Mercurial serpent, which in its turn was interpreted by the alchemists as the spirit of life that was in the wheels (DV).498 We should also mention that according to Ezekiel 1 : 18 the inter-revolving wheels were full of eyes round about. The old illustrators therefore produced something like an astrolabe in their attempts to depict the vision. The notion of wheels is naturally connected with movement in all directions, for the eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth (Zech. 4 : 10). It is said of the horses, too, that they walk to and fro through the earth (Zech. 6 : 7). Eyes are round and in common speech are likened to cart-wheels. They also seem to be a typical symbol for what I have called the multiple luminosities of the unconscious. By this I mean the seeming possibility that complexes possess a kind of consciousness, a luminosity of their own, which, I conjecture, expresses itself in the symbol of the soul-spark, multiple eyes (polyophthalmia), and the starry heaven.499

[271] By reason of its solar nature the eye is a symbol of consciousness, and accordingly multiple eyes would indicate a multiplicity of conscious centres which are co-ordinated into a unity like the many-faceted eye of an insect. As Ezekiels vision can be interpreted psychologically as a symbol of the self, we may also mention in this connection the Hindu definition of the selfhere hiranyagarbhaas the collective aggregate of all individual souls.500

[272] Ezekiels vision is of psychological importance because the quaternity embodied in it is the vehicle or throne of him who had the appearance of a man. Together with the spirit of life in the wheels it represents the empirical self, the totality of the four functions. These four are only partly conscious. The auxiliary functions are partly, and the inferior or subliminal function is wholly, autonomous; they cannot be put to conscious use and they reach consciousness only indirectly as a fait accompli, through their sometimes disturbing effects. Their specific energy adds itself to the normal energy of the unconscious and thereby gives it an impulse that enables it to irrupt spontaneously into consciousness. As we know, these invasions can be observed systematically in the association experiment.501

[273] The quaternity of the self appears in Ezekiels vision as the true psychological foundation of the God-concept. God uses it as his vehicle. It is possible for the psychologist to verify the structure of this foundation, but beyond that the theologian has the last word. In order to clear up any misunderstandings, especially from the theological side, I would like to emphasize yet again that it is not the business of science to draw conclusions which go beyond the bounds of our empirical knowledge. I do not feel the slightest need to put the self in place of God, as short-sighted critics have often accused me of doing. If Indian philosophers equate the atman with the concept of God and many Westerners copy them, this is simply their subjective opinion and not science. A consensus generalis on this point would in itself be yet another fact which, for the empirical psychologist, is as well worth considering as the remarkable view of many theologians that religious statements have nothing to do with the psyche. Similarly, it is characteristic of the mystical philosophy of the alchemists that the Mercurial serpent is enthroned on the chariot. He is a living spirit who uses as his chariot the body that consists of the four elements. In this sense the chariot is the symbol of earthly life. A Georgian fairytale closes with the verses:

I have dragged a cart up the mountain,

It has become like a mountain.

Summon me from this life

Over to eternity.502

[274] As I have said, the process of transformation does not come to an end with the production of the quaternity symbol. The continuation of the opus leads to the dangerous crossing of the Red Sea, signifying death and rebirth. It is very remarkable that our author, by his paradox running without running, moving without motion, introduces a coincidence of opposites just at this point, and that the Hippolytus text speaks, equally paradoxically, of the gods of destruction and the god of salvation being together. The quaternity, as we have seen, is a quaternio of opposites, a synthesis of the four originally divergent functions. Their synthesis is here achieved in an image, but in psychic reality becoming conscious of the whole psyche503 faces us with a highly problematical situation. We can indicate its scope in a single question: What am I to do with the unconscious?

[275] For this, unfortunately, there are no recipes or general rules. I have tried to present the main outlines of what the psycho therapist can observe of this wearisome and all too familiar process in my study The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious. For the layman these experiences are a terra incognita which is not made any more accessible by broad generalizations. Even the imagination of the alchemists, otherwise so fertile, fails us completely here. Only a thorough investigation of the texts could shed a little light on this question. The same task challenges our endeavours in the field of psycho therapy. Here too are thousands of images, symbols, dreams, fantasies, and visions that still await comparative research. The only thing that can be said with some certainty at present is that there is a gradual process of approximation whereby the two positions, the conscious and the unconscious, are both modified. Differences in individual cases, however, are just as great as they were among the alchemists.

  1. The Fourth of the Three

[276] In the course of his mystic peregrination504 Maier reached the Red (Erythraean) Sea, and in the following way: he journeyed to the four directions, to the north (Europe), to the west (America), to the east (Asia).505 Leaving Asia and turning south to Africa, he found a statue of Mercury, made of silver, and with a golden head. The statue pointed to Paradise, which he espied far off. Now because of its four rivers, and because it was the abode of the originally androgynous Primordial Man (Adam), the Garden of Eden was a favourite mandala in Christian iconography, and is therefore a symbol of totality andfrom the psychological point of viewof the self. If we take the four directions and the four elements (see note 505) as a symbolical equivalent of the four basic functions of consciousness, we can say that Maier had become conscious of three of them by the time he reached Asia. This brings him to the fourth and last, the inferior function, which is the darkest and the most unconscious of all. Africa is not a bad image for this. But just as Maier was about to direct his steps thither, he had a vision of paradise as the primordial image of wholeness, which showed him that the goal of his journey lay in the attainment of this wholeness. By the time he reached Africa, he says, the sun was in its house, Leo, and the moon was in Cancer, the moon having Cancer for the roof of its house. The proximity of the two houses indicates a coniunctio Solis et Lunae, the union of supreme opposites, and this is the crowning of the opus and the goal of the peregrination. He adds: And this gave me great hope of the best augury.

[277] The fourth function has its seat in the unconscious. In mythology the unconscious is portrayed as a great animal, for instance Leviathan, or as a whale, wolf, or dragon. We know from the myth of the sun-hero that it is so hot in the belly of the whale that his hair falls out.506 Arisleus and his companions likewise suffer from the great heat of their prison under the sea.507 The alchemists were fond of comparing their fire to the fire of hell or the flames of purgatory. Maier gives a description of Africa which is very like a description of hell: uncultivated, torrid, parched,508 sterile and empty.509 He says there are so few springs that animals of the most varied species assemble at the drinking-places and mingle with one another, whence new births and animals of a novel appearance are born, which explained the saying Always something new out of Africa. Pans dwelt there, and satyrs, dog-headed baboons, and half-men, besides innumerable species of wild animals. According to certain modern views, this could hardly be bettered as a description of the unconscious. Maier further reports that in the region of the Red Sea an animal is found with the name of Ortus (rising, origin). It had a red head with streaks of gold reaching to its neck, black eyes, a white face, white forepaws, and black hindpaws. He derived the idea of this animal from the remark of Avicenna: That thing whose head is red, its eyes black and its feet white, is the magistery.510 He was convinced that the legend of this creature referred to the phoenix, which was likewise found in that region. While he was making inquiries about the phoenix he heard a rumour that not far off a prophetess, known as the Erythraean Sibyl, dwelt in a cave. This was the sibyl who was alleged to have foretold the coming of Christ. Maier is probably referring here not to the eighth book of the Sibylline Oracles, verse 217, at which point thirty-four verses begin with the following letters: IHOY XPEITO EOY YIO THP TAYPO,511 but to the report of St. Augustine in Decivitate dei,512 which was well known in the Middle Ages. He also cites the passage about the sibyl in the Constantini Oratio of Eusebius and emphasizes that the sibylline prophecy referred to the coming of Christ in the flesh.512a

[278] We have seen earlier that the Erythraean Sea is a mysterious place, but here we meet with some noteworthy details. To begin with, our author reaches this sea just when he has completed the journey through the three continents and is about to enter the critical fourth region. We know from the Axiom of Maria and from Faust the crucial importance of that seemingly innocent question at the beginning of the Timaeus:

SOCRATES: One, two, three but where, my dear Timaeus, is the fourth of those guests of yesterday who were to entertain me today?

TIMAEUS: He suddenly felt unwell, Socrates; he would not have failed to join our company if he could have helped it.513

[279] The transition from three to four is a problem514 on which the ambiguous formulation of Maria does not shed very much light.515 We come across the dilemma of three and four in any number of guises, and in Maiers Symbola aureae mensae as well the step from three to four proves to be an important development presaged by the vision of paradise. The region of the Red Sea is proverbially hot, and Maier reached it at the end of July, in the intense heat of summer. He was, in fact, getting hot, uncommonly hot, as hot as hell, for he was approaching that region of the psyche which was not unjustly said to be inhabited by Pans, Satyrs, dog-headed baboons, and half-men. It is not difficult to see that this region is the animal soul in man. For just as a man has a body which is no different in principle from that of an animal, so also his psychology has a whole series of lower storeys in which the spectres from humanitys past epochs still dwell, then the animal souls from the age of Pithecanthropus and the hominids, then the psyche of the cold-blooded saurians, and, deepest down of all, the transcendental mystery and paradox of the sympathetic and parasympa thetic psychoid processes.

[280] So it is not surprising that our world-voyager felt that he had landed in the hottest placehe was in Arabia Felixin the sweltering heat of summer! He was painfully aware that he was risking his skin: Its your concern when your neighbours wall is on fire.516 He was the banquet-giver and the guest, the eater and the eaten in one person.

[281] The innumerable species of animals begin to show up already by the Red Sea, headed by the fabulous four-footed Ortus, which combines in itself the four alchemical colours, black, white, red, and yellow517 (the gold streaks on head and neck). Maier does not hesitate to identify the Ortus with the phoenix, the other legendary inhabitant of Arabia Felix,518 less perhaps on account of its appearance than on account of its name; for the phoenix, too, after consuming itself in the land of Egypt, each time rose renewed, like the reborn sun in Heliopolis.

[282] The Ortus is the alchemical animal which represents the living quaternity in its first synthesis. In order to become the ever-living bird of the spirit it needs the transforming fire, which is found in Africa, that is, in the encounter with and investigation of the fourth function and the animal soul represented by the Ortus. By interpreting it as the phoenix, Maier gave it a far-reaching change of meaning, as we shall see. For besides his animal soul he also discovered in its vicinity a kind of feminine soul, a virgin, to whom he at first appeared like an importunate guest.519 This was the sibyl who foretold the coming of Christ. Thus, by the Red Sea, he met the animal soul in the form of a monstrous quaternity, symbolizing, so to speak, the prima materia of the self and, as the phoenix, rebirth. The mystery alluded to here is not only the encounter with the animal soul but, at the same time and in the same place, the meeting with the anima, a feminine psychopomp who showed him the way to Mercurius and also how to find the phoenix.520

[283] It is worth noting that the animal is the symbolic carrier of the self. This hint in Maier is borne out by modern individuals who have no notion of alchemy.521 It expresses the fact that the structure of wholeness was always present but was buried in profound unconsciousness, where it can always be found again if one is willing to risk ones skin to attain the greatest possible range of consciousness through the greatest possible self-knowledgea harsh and bitter drink usually reserved for hell. The throne of God seems to be no unworthy reward for such trials. For self-knowledgein the total meaning of the wordis not a one-sided intellectual pastime but a journey through the four continents, where one is exposed to all the dangers of land, sea, air, and fire. Any total act of recognition worthy of the name embraces the fouror 360!aspects of existence. Nothing may be disregarded. When Ignatius Loyola recommended imagination through the five senses522 to the meditant, and told him to imitate Christ by use of his senses,523 what he had in mind was the fullest possible realization of the object of contemplation. Quite apart from the moral or other effects of this kind of meditation, its chief effect is the training of consciousness, of the capacity for concentration, and of attention and clarity of thought. The corresponding forms of Yoga have similar effects. But in contrast to these traditional modes of realization, where the meditant projects himself into some prescribed form, the self-knowledge alluded to by Maier is a projection into the empirical self as it actually is. It is not the self we like to imagine ourselves to be after carefully removing all the blemishes, but the empirical ego just as it is, with everything that it does and everything that happens to it. Everybody would like to be quit of this odious adjunct, which is precisely why in the East the ego is explained as illusion and why in the West it is offered up in sacrifice to the Christ figure.

[284] By contrast, the aim of the mystical peregrination is to understand all parts of the world, to achieve the greatest possible extension of consciousness, as though its guiding principle were the Carpocratic524 idea that one is delivered from no sin which one has not committed. Not a turning away from its empirical so-ness, but the fullest possible experience of the ego as reflected in the ten thousand things that is the goal of the peregrination.525 This follows logically from the psychological recognition that God cannot be experienced at all unless this futile and ridiculous ego offers a modest vessel in which to catch the effluence of the Most High and name it with his name. The significance of the vas-symbol in alchemy shows how concerned the artifex was to have the right vessel for the right content: One is the lapis, one the medicament, one the vessel, one the procedure, and one the disposition. The aqua nostra, the transformative substance, is even its own vessel.526 From this it is but a step to the paradoxical statement of Angelus Silesius:

God is my centre when I close him in,

And my circumference when I melt in him.527

[285] Maiers Erythraean quadruped, the Ortus, corresponds to the four-wheeled chariot of Pseudo-Aristotle. The tetramorph, too, is a product of early medieval iconography,528 combining the four winged creatures of Ezekiels vision into a four-footed monster. The interpretation of the Ortus as the phoenix connects it with Christ, whose coming was prophesied by the Sibyl; for the phoenix is a well-known allegory of the resurrection of Christ and of the dead in general.529 It is the symbol of transformation par excellence. In view of this well-known interpretation of the phoenix and of the Erythraean oracle, it is amazing that any author at the beginning of the seventeenth century should dare to ask the sibyl, not to show him the way to Christ, but to tell him where he could find Mercurius! This passage offers another striking proof of the parallelism between Mercurius and Christ. Nor does the phoenix appear here as a Christ allegory but as the bearer and birthplace of the universal medicine, the remedy against wrath and pain. As the sibyl once foretold the coming of the Lord, so now she is to point the way to Mercurius. Christ is the Anthropos, the Primordial Man; Mercurius has the same meaning, and the Primordial Man stands for the round, original wholeness, long ago made captive by the powers of this world. In Christs case the victory and liberation of the Primordial Man were said to be complete, so that the labours of the alchemists would seem to be superfluous. We can only assume that the alchemists were of a different opinion, and that they sought their remedy against wrath and pain in order to complete what they considered to be Christs unfinished work of redemption.

[286] It is characteristic of Maiers views that the idea of most importance is not Mercurius, who elsewhere appears strongly personified, but a substance brought by the phoenix, the bird of the spirit. It is this inorganic substance, and not a living being, which is used as a symbol of wholeness, or as a means towards wholeness, a desideratum apparently not fulfilled by the Christ-symbol.530 Involuntarily one asks oneself whether the intense personalization of the divine figures, as is customary in Christianity and quite particularly in Protestantism,531 is not in the end compensated, and to some extent mitigated, by a more objective point of view emanating from the unconscious.

  1. Ascent and Descent

[287] In his quest for wholeness so far, Michael Maier, besides crossing three continents and travelling in three directions, has discovered a statue of Mercurius pointing the way to paradise; he has glimpsed paradise from afar, he has found the animal soul and the sibylline anima, who now counsels him to journey to the seven mouths of the Nile (Ostia Nili), in order to seek for Mercurius. The continuation of his pilgrimage recalls the flight of the phoenix from Arabia, where it lives, to Egypt, where it dies and arises anew. We may therefore expect that something similar will befall the author. We are not told anything of his crossing of the Red Sea and of his recapitulation, in the reverse direction, of the miraculous wanderings of the children of Israel. We do, however, soon learn that something like a rebirth mystery is to take place, because Maier compares the seven mouths of the Nile to the seven planets. He first reaches the Canopic Gate, the western mouth of the delta, where he finds Saturn domiciled. Of the remaining planets we can recognize only Mars with certainty, as the description of the cities where the others dwell is not very clear. Amid innumerable hazards he traverses the seven regions without meeting Mercurius. He does not find him even in his own city. Finally he has to turn back and retrace his steps until he reaches the Canopic Gate, where this time he finds Mercurius. Although he learns from him all sorts of secrets, he fails to find the phoenix. Later, he will return again in order to discover the panacea. In his Epigramma ad Phoenicem he begs the wonderful bird to give the wise man its feathers,532 and in his epigram to the Medicina Phoeniciae he rates it above riches and gold, and he who does not think so is not a man but a beast.533

[288] The experience of the fourth quarter, the region of fire (i.e., the inferior function), is described by Maier as an ascent and descent through the seven planetary spheres. Even if the peregrination up to this point was not an allegory of the opus alchymicum, from now on it certainly is. The opus is atransitus, a

in the Gnostic sense, a transcension and transformation whose subject and object is the elusive Mercurius. I will not discuss the nature of the transitus here in any great detail, as this would be the proper concern of an account of the opus itself. One aspect of the transitus, however, is the ascent and descent through the planetary spheres, and to this we must devote a few words. As the Tabula smaragdina shows, the purpose of the ascent and descent is to unite the powers of Above and Below. A feature worthy of special notice is that in the opus there is an ascent followed by a descent, whereas the probable Gnostic-Christian prototype depicts first the descent and then the ascent. There are numerous evidences of this in the literature and I do not need to cite them here. I will quote only the words of one of the great Greek Fathers, St. Basil, who says in his explanation of Psalm 17 : 10534 (And he bowed the heavens and came down, and a black cloud was under his feet): David says here: God came down from heaven to help me and to chastise his enemies. But he clearly prophesies the incarnation [

] of Christ when he says: He bowed the heavens and came down. For he did not break through the heavens and did not make the mystery manifest, but came down to earth secretly, like rain upon the fleece,535 because the incarnation was secret and unknown, and his coming into the world-order [

] was hidden.536 Commenting on the next verse (And he was borne upon the cherubim, and he flew), Basil says: For in ascending he rose above the Cherubim, whom David named also the wings of the wind, on account of their winged and stormy nature. By the wings of the wind is also meant the cloud which took him up.537 Irenaeus sums up the mystery in the lapidary saying: For it is He who descended and ascended for the salvation of men.538

[289] In contrast to this, in alchemy the ascent comes first and then the descent. I would mention the ascent and descent of the soul in the Rosarium illustrations539 and above all the exordium in the Tabula smaragdina, whose authority held sway throughout the Middle Ages:

  1. Its father is the sun, its mother the moon; the wind hath carried it in his belly; its nurse is the earth.
  2. Its power is complete when it is turned towards the earth.

VIII. It ascendeth from the earth to heaven, and descendeth again to the earth, and receiveth the power of the higher and lower things. So wilt thou have the glory of the whole world.540

[290] These articles (whose subject is sometimes masculine and sometimes neuter) describe the sun-moon child who is laid in the cradle of the four elements, attains full power through them and the earth, rises to heaven and receives the power of the upper world, and then returns to earth, accomplishing, it seems, a triumph of wholeness (gloria totius mundi). The words So wilt thou have are evidently addressed to the Philosopher, for he is the artifex of the filius philosophorum. If he succeeds in transforming the arcane substance he will simultaneously accomplish his own wholeness, which will manifest itself as the glory of the whole world.

[291] There can be no doubt that the arcane substance, whether in neuter or personified form, rises from the earth, unites the opposites, and then returns to earth, thereby achieving its own transformation into the elixir. He riseth up and goeth down in the tree of the sun, till he becomes the elixir, says the Consilium coniugii.541 The text continues:

Someone hath said,542 And when I rise naked to heaven, then shall I come clothed upon the earth, and shall perfect all minerals.543 And if we are baptized in the fountain of gold and silver, and the spirit of our body [i.e., the arcane substance] ascends into heaven with the father and the son, and descends again, then shall our souls revive, and my animal body will remain white, that is, [the body] of the moon.544

[292] Here the union of opposites consists in an ascent to heaven and a descent to earth in the bath of the tincture. The earthly effect is first a perfection of minerals, then a resuscitation of souls and a transfiguration of the animal body, which before was dark. A parallel passage in the Consilium runs:

His soul rises up from it545 and is exalted to the heavens, that is, to the spirit, and becomes the rising sun (that is, red), in the waxing moon, and of solar nature.546 And then the lantern with two lights,547 which is the water of life, will return to its origin, that is, to earth. And it becomes of low estate, is humbled and decays, and is joined to its beloved,548 the terrestrial sulphur.549

[293] This text describes the ascent of the soul of the arcane substance, the incombustible sulphur. The soul as Luna attains its plenilunium, its sunlike brilliance, then wanes into the novilunium and sinks down into the embrace of the terrestrial sulphur, which here signifies death and corruption. We are reminded of the gruesome conjunction at the new moon in Maiers Scrutinium chymicum, where the woman and the dragon embrace in the grave.550 The description Dorn gives in his Physica Trismegisti is also to the point: In the end it will come to pass that this earthly, spagyric birth clothes itself with heavenly nature by its ascent, and then by its descent visibly puts on the nature of the centre of the earth, but nonetheless the nature of the heavenly centre which it acquired by the ascent is secretly preserved.551 This birth (foetura) conquers the subtile and spiritual sickness in the human mind and also all bodily defects, within as well as without. The medicament is produced in the same way as the world was created. Elsewhere Dorn remarks that the foetus spagyricus is forced by the fire to rise up to heaven (caelum), by which he means from the bottom of the vessel to the top, and from there it descends again after attaining the necessary degree of ripeness, and returns to earth: This spirit becomes corporeal again, after having become spirit from a body.552

[294] As if in contradiction to the Tabula smaragdina, whose authority he follows here, Dorn writes in his Philosophia speculativa: No one ascends into the heaven which ye seek, unless he who descends from the heaven which ye do not seek, enlighten him.553 Dorn was perhaps the first alchemist to find certain statements of his art problematical,554 and it was for this reason that he provided his foetus spagyricus, who behaves in an all too Basilidian manner, with a Christian alibi. At the same time he was conscious that the artifex was indissolubly one with the opus.555 His speculations are not to be taken lightly as they are occasionally of the greatest psychological interest, e.g.: The descent to the four and the ascent to the monad are simultaneous.556 The four are the four elements and the monad is the original unity which reappears in the denarius (the number 10), the goal of the opus; it is the unity of the personality projected into the unity of the stone. The descent is analytic, a separation into the four components of wholeness; the ascent synthetic, a putting together of the denarius. This speculation accords with the psychological fact that the confrontation of conscious and unconscious produces a dissolution of the personality and at the same time regroups it into a whole. This can be seen very clearly in moments of psychic crisis, for it is just in these moments that the symbol of unity, for instance the mandala, occurs in a dream. Where danger is, there / Arises salvation also, says Hlderlin.

[295] While the older authors keep strictly to the Tabula smaragdina,557 the more modern ones, under the leadership of Dorn, tend to present the process the other way round. For instance, Mylius says that the earth cannot ascend unless heaven comes down first. And even then the earth can be sublimated to heaven only if it is dissolved in its own spirit558 and becomes one substance therewith.559 The Paracelsist Penotus is even more emphatic. Speaking of Mercurius, he says:

As to how the son of man [filius hominis] is generated by the philosopher and the fruit of the virgin is produced, it is necessary that he be exalted from the earth and cleansed of all earthliness; then he rises as a whole into the air and is changed into spirit. Thus the word of the philosopher is fulfilled: He ascends from earth to heaven and puts on the power of Above and Below, and lays aside his earthly and uncleanly nature.560

This complete identification of the lapis with the son of man must obviously end with its ascension. But that contradicts the original and widespread conception of the lapis as the tincture or medicine, which has meaning and value only if it applies itself to the base substances of the lower world. The upper world is in need of no medicine, since it is incorruptible anyway. A redeemer who proceeds from matter and returns to matter gradually became unthinkable. Those who identified the lapis absolutely with Christ stopped working in the laboratory, and those who preferred laboratory work slowly gave up their mystic language.

[296] Ascent and descent, above and below, up and down, represent an emotional realization of opposites, and this realization gradually leads, or should lead, to their equilibrium. This motif occurs very frequently in dreams, in the form of going up- and downhill, climbing stairs, going up or down in a lift, balloon, aeroplane, etc.561 It corresponds to the struggle between the winged and the wingless dragon, i.e., the uroboros. Dorn describes it also as the circular distillation562 and as the spagyric vessel which has to be constructed after the likeness of the natural vessel, i.e., in the form of a sphere. As Dorn interprets it, this vacillating between the opposites and being tossed back and forth means being contained in the opposites. They become a vessel in which what was previously now one thing and now another floats vibrating, so that the painful suspension between opposites gradually changes into the bilateral activity of the point in the centre.563 This is the liberation from opposites, the nirdvandva of Hindu philosophy, though it is not really a philosophical but rather a psychological development. The Aurelia occulta puts this thought in the words of the dragon: Many from one and one from many, issue of a famous line, I rise from the lowest to the highest. The nethermost power of the whole earth is united with the highest. I therefore am the One and the Many within me.564 In these words the dragon makes it clear that he is the chthonic forerunner of the self.

  1. The Journey through the Planetary Houses

[297] Returning now to Michael Maiers journey to the seven mouths of the Nile, which signify the seven planets, we bring to this theme a deepened understanding of what the alchemists meant by ascent and descent. It was the freeing of the soul from the shackles of darkness, or unconsciousness; its ascent to heaven, the widening of consciousness; and finally its return to earth, to hard reality, in the form of the tincture or healing drink, endowed with the powers of the Above. What this means psychologically could be seen very clearly from the Hypnerotomachia565 were its meaning not overlaid by a mass of ornate detail. It should therefore be pointed out that the whole first part of the book is a description of the dreamers ascent to a world of gods and heroes, of his initiation into a Venus mystery, followed by the illumination and semi-apotheosis of Poliphilo and his Polia. In the second, smaller part this leads to disenchantment and the cooling off of the lovers, culminating in the knowledge that it was all only a dream. It is a descent to earth, to the reality of daily life, and it is not altogether clear whether the hero managed to preserve in secret the nature of the heavenly centre which he acquired by the ascent.566 One rather doubts it. Nevertheless, his exciting adventure has left us a psychological document which is a perfect example of the course and the symbolism of the individuation process. The spirit, if not the language, of alchemy breathes through it and sheds light even on the darkest enigmas and riddles of the Masters.567

[298] Maiers journey through the planetary houses begins with Saturn, who is the coldest, heaviest, and most distant of the planets, the maleficus and abode of evil, the mysterious and sinister Senex (Old Man), and from there he ascends to the region of the sun, to look for the Boy Mercurius, the longed-for and long-sought goal of the adept. It is an ascent ever nearer to the sun, from darkness and cold to light and warmth, from old age to youth, from death to rebirth. But he has to go back along the way he came, for Mercurius is not to be found in the region of the sun but at the point from which he originally started. This sounds very psychological, and in fact life never goes forward except at the place where it has come to a standstill.568 The sought-for Mercurius is the spiritus vegetativus, a living spirit, whose nature it is to run through all the houses of the planets, i.e., the entire Zodiac. We could just as well say through the entire horoscope, or, since the horoscope is the chronometric equivalent of individual character, through all the characterological components of the personality. Individual character is, on the old view, the curse or blessing which the gods bestowed on the child at its birth in the form of favourable or unfavourable astrological aspects. The horoscope is like the chirographum, the handwriting of the ordinances against us . . . which Christ blotted out; and he took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross. And after having disarmed the principalities and powers he made a show of them openly, and triumphed over them.569

[299] This very ancient idea of what we might call an inborn bill of debt to fate is the Western version of a prenatal karma. It is the archons, the seven rulers of the planets, who imprint its fate upon the soul. Thus Priscillian (d. c. 385) says that the soul, on its descent to birth, passes through certain circles where it is made captive by evil powers, and in accordance with the will of the victorious prince is forced into divers bodies, and his handwriting inscribed upon it.570 Presumably this means that the soul is imprinted with the influences of the various planetary spheres. The descent of the soul through the planetary houses corresponds to its passage through the gates of the planets as described by Origen: the first gate is of lead and is correlated with Saturn,571 from which it is clear that Maier is following an old tradition.572 His peregrinatio chymica repeats the old heavenly journey of the soul, an idea which seems to have been developed more particularly in Persia.

[300] I shall not go more closely here into the transitus through the planetary houses;573 it is sufficient to know that Michael Maier, like Mercurius, passes through them on his mystic journey.574 This journey is reminiscent of the voyage of the hero, one motif of which becomes evident in the archetypal meeting at the critical place (the ford) with the Ortus, its head showing the four colours. There are other motifs too. Where there is a monster a beautiful maiden is not far away, for they have, as we know, a secret understanding so that the one is seldom found without the other. The sibyl, the guide of souls, shows the hero the way to Mercurius, who in this case is Hermes Trismegistus, the supreme mystagogue.

[301] In the Shepherd of Hermas it is related that the hero, while travelling along the Via Campana, met a monster resembling a dragon of the sea (


And the beast had on its head four colours, black, then the colour of flame and blood, then golden, then white. After I had passed the beast by and had gone about thirty feet further, lo! a maiden met me, adorned as if coming forth from the bridal chamber, all in white and with white sandals, veiled to the forehead, and a turban for a head-dress, but her hair was white.575

[302] The similarity between the two stories is so complete that one is tempted to assume that Maier had read the Shepherd of Hermas. This is not very likely. Though he had a good education in the humanities I can see in his writings no evidence that he was familiar with the patristic literature, and in his references to the writings of Albertus and Thomas Aquinas576 he might easily have let slip a remark of this kind. But one finds nothing, and it does not seem very probable, either, that Maier had direct knowledge of the New Testament Apocrypha.

[303] Hermas interprets the maiden as the Church, and Maier, fifteen hundred years later, as the Erythraean Sibyl, which only goes to show once more that the newer is the older. The supreme mistress led Hermas to the kingdom of the triune God, but Maier she leads to Hermes Trismegistus and Trisomatos, the triadic Mercurius, who would reveal to him the secret of the phoenixs resurrection.577 He can find Mercurius only through the rite of the ascent and descent, the circular distillation, beginning with the black lead, with the darkness, coldness, and malignity of the malefic Saturn; then ascending through the other planets to the fiery Sol, where the gold is heated in the hottest fire and cleansed of all impurities; and finally returning to Saturn, where this time he meets Mercurius and receives some useful teachings from him. Saturn has here changed from a star of ill omen into a domus barbae (House of the Beard), where the wisest of all, Thrice-Greatest Hermes, imparts wisdom.578 Hermas too begins with the blackness; his mistress gives him the following explanation:

The black is this world in which you are living; the colour of fire and blood means that this world must be destroyed in blood and fire. The golden part is you, who have fled from this world, for even as gold is tried in the fire and becomes valuable, so also you who live among them are tried. . . . The white part is the world to come, in which the elect of God shall dwell; for those who have been chosen by God for eternal life will be without spot and pure.579

[304] In alchemy the fire purifies, but it also melts the opposites into a unity. He who ascends unites the powers of Above and Below and shows his full power when he returns again to earth.580 By this is to be understood the production on the one hand of the panacea or Medicina Catholica, and on the other, of a living being with a human form, the filius philosophorum, who is often depicted as a youth or hermaphrodite or child. He is a parallel of the Gnostic Anthropos, but he also appears as an Anthroparion, a kind of goblin, a familiar who stands by the adept in his work and helps the physician to heal.581 This being ascends and descends and unites Below with Above, gaining a new power which carries its effect over into everyday life. His mistress gives Hermas this advice: Therefore do not cease to speak to the ears of the saints582in other words, work among your fellow men by spreading the news of the Risen.

[305] Just as Maier on his return met Mercurius, so Hermas in his next vision met the Poimen, the shepherd, a white fleece round his shoulders, a knapsack on his back, and a staff in his hand. Hermas recognized that it was he to whom I was handed over,583 namely the shepherd of the lamb, which was himself. In iconography the good shepherd has the closest connections with Hermes Kriophoros (the lamb-bearer); thus even in antiquity these two saviour figures coalesced. Whereas Hermas is handed over to his shepherd, Hermes hands over his art and wisdom to his pupil Maier and thus equips him to do something himself and to work with the aid of the magic caduceus. This, for a physician who was an alchemist, took the place of the staff of Asklepios, which had only one snake. The sacred snake of the Asklepieion signified: The god heals; but the caduceus, or Mercurius in the form of the coniunctio in the retort, means: In the hands of the physician lie the magic remedies granted by God.584

[306] The numerous analogies between two texts so far apart in time enable us to take a psychological view of the transformations they describe. The sequence of colours coincides by and large with the sequence of the planets. Grey and black correspond to Saturn585 and the evil world; they symbolize the beginning in darkness, in the melancholy, fear, wickedness, and wretchedness of ordinary human life. It is Maier from whom the saying comes about the noble substance which moves from lord to lord, in the beginning whereof is wretchedness with vinegar.586 By lord he means the archon and ruler of the planetary house. He adds: And so it will fare with me. The darkness and blackness can be interpreted psychologically as mans confusion and lostness; that state which nowadays results in an anamnesis, a thorough examination of all those contents which are the cause of the problematical situation, or at any rate its expression. This examination, as we know, includes the irrational contents that originate in the unconscious and express themselves in fantasies and dreams. The analysis and interpretation of dreams confront the conscious standpoint with the statements of the unconscious, thus widening its narrow horizon. This loosening up of cramped and rigid attitudes corresponds to the solution and separation of the elements by the aqua permanens, which was already present in the body and is lured out by the art. The water is a soul or spirit, that is, a psychic substance, which now in its turn is applied to the initial material. This corresponds to using the dreams meaning to clarify existing problems. Solutio is defined in this sense by Dorn.587

[307] The situation is now gradually illuminated as is a dark night by the rising moon. The illumination comes to a certain extent from the unconscious, since it is mainly dreams that put us on the track of enlightenment. This dawning light corresponds to the albedo, the moonlight which in the opinion of some alchemists heralds the rising sun. The growing redness (rubedo) which now follows denotes an increase of warmth and light coming from the sun, consciousness. This corresponds to the increasing participation of consciousness, which now begins to react emotionally to the contents produced by the unconscious. At first the process of integration is a fiery conflict, but gradually it leads over to the melting or synthesis of the opposites. The alchemists termed this the rubedo, in which the marriage of the red man and the white woman, Sol and Luna, is consummated. Although the opposites flee from one another they nevertheless strive for balance, since a state of conflict is too inimical to life to be endured indefinitely. They do this by wearing each other out: the one eats the other, like the two dragons or the other ravenous beasts of alchemical symbolism.

[308] Astrologically, as we have said, this process corresponds to an ascent through the planets from the dark, cold, distant Saturn to the sun. To the alchemists the connection between individual temperament and the positions of the planets was self-evident, for these elementary astrological considerations were the common property of any educated person in the Middle Ages as well as in antiquity. The ascent through the planetary spheres therefore meant something like a shedding of the characterological qualities indicated by the horoscope, a retrogressive liberation from the character imprinted by the archons. The conscious or unconscious model for such an ascent was the Gnostic redeemer, who either deceives the archons by guile or breaks their power by force. A similar motif is the release from the bill of debt to fate. The men of late antiquity in particular felt their psychic situation to be fatally dependent on the compulsion of the stars, Heimarmene, a feeling which may be compared with that inspired by the modern theory of heredity, or rather by the pessimistic use of it. A similar demoralization sets in in many neuroses when the patient takes the psychic factors producing the symptoms as though they were unalterable facts which it is useless to resist. The journey through the planetary houses, like the crossing of the great halls in the Egyptian underworld, therefore signifies the overcoming of a psychic obstacle, or of an autonomous complex, suitably represented by a planetary god or demon. Anyone who has passed through all the spheres is free from compulsion; he has won the crown of victory and become like a god.

[309] In our psychological language today we express ourselves more modestly: the journey through the planetary houses boils down to becoming conscious of the good and the bad qualities in our character, and the apotheosis means no more than maximum consciousness, which amounts to maximal freedom of the will. This goal cannot be better represented than by the alchemical symbol of the

(position of the sun at noon) in Zosimos.588 But at the zenith the descent begins. The mystic traveller goes back to the Nile mouth from which he started. He repeats, as it were, the descent of the soul which had led in the first place to the imprinting of the chirographum. He retraces his steps through the planetary houses until he comes back to the dark Saturn. This means that the soul, which was imprinted with a horoscopic character at the time of its descent into birth, conscious now of its godlikeness, beards the archons in their lairs and carries the light undisguised down into the darkness of the world.

[310] Here again psychology makes no special claims. What before was a burden unwillingly borne and blamed upon the entire family, is seen by the greatest possible insight (which can be very modest!) to be no more than the possession of ones own personality, and one realizesas though this were not self-evident!that one cannot live from anything except what one is.

[311] On returning to the house of Saturn our pilgrim finds the long-sought Mercurius.589 Maier passes remarkably quickly over this highly significant encounter and mentions merely their numerous conversations without, however, disclosing their content. This is the more surprising in that Mercurius either personifies the great teacher or else has the character of the arcane substance, both of which would be a fruitful source for further revelations. For Mercurius is the light-bringing Nous, who knows the secret of transformation and of immortality.

[312] Let us assume that Maiers sudden silence is no mere accident but was intentional or even a necessity. This assumption is not entirely without justification since Maier was one of the founders of the international Rosicrucian Society,590 and would therefore have no doubt been in a position to expatiate at length upon the Hermetic arcana. What we know of the so-called Rosicrucian secrets does nothing to explain why they were hushed up. This, incidentally, is true of most mysteries of this kind. It is very significant that the mysteries of the early Church turned soon enough into sacraments. The word mystery became a misnomer, since everything lay open in the rite. Andreas Rosencreutz used as a motto for his Chymical Wedding:Mysteries profaned and made public fade and lose their grace. Therefore, cast not pearls before swine, nor spread roses for the ass. This attitude might have been a motive for silence. People had so often got to know of things that were kept secret in the mysteries under the most fearsome oaths and had wondered why on earth they should ever have been the object of secrecy. Self-importance or the prestige of the priesthood or of the initiates seemed the obvious deduction. And there can be no doubt that the mysteries often were abused in this way. But the real reason was the imperative need to participate in a or perhaps the secret without which life loses its supreme meaning. The secret is not really worth keeping, but the fact that it is still obstinately kept reveals an equally persistent psychic motive for keeping secrets, and that is the real secret, the real mystery. It is indeed remarkable and mysterious that this gesture of keeping something secret should be made at all. Why does man need to keep a secret, and for what purpose does he invent an artificial one which he even decks out as an ineffably holy rite? The thing hidden is always more or less irrelevant, for in itself it is no more than an image or sign pointing to a content that cannot be defined more closely. This content is certainly not a matter for indifference since it indicates the living presence of a numinous archetype. The essential thing is the hiding, an expressive gesture which symbolizes something unconscious and not to be named lying behind it; something, therefore, that is either not yet conscious or cannot or will not become conscious. It points, in a word, to the presence of an unconscious content, which exacts from consciousness a tri bute of constant regard and attention. With the application of interest the continual perception and assimilation of the effects of the secret become possible. This is beneficial to the conduct of life, because the contents of the unconscious can then exert their compensatory effect and, if taken note of and recognized, bring about a balance that promotes health. On a primitive level, therefore, the chief effect of the mysteries is to promote health, growth, and fertility. If there were nothing good in the rite it would presumably never have come into existence or would long since have perished. The tremendous psychic effect of the Eleusinian mysteries, for instance, is beyond question. Psycho therapeutic experience has made the meaning of secrets once more a topical question, not only from the religious or philosophical point of view but also in respect of the demands of conscience with which individuation confronts a man.

[313] Maiers silence is eloquent, as we soon find when we try to see the psychological equivalent of the descent and of the discovery of Mercurius. The maximal degree of consciousness confronts the ego with its shadow, and individual psychic life with a collective psyche. These psychological terms sound light enough but they weigh heavy, for they denote an almost unendurable conflict, a psychic strait whose terrors only he knows who has passed through it. What one then discovers about oneself and about man and the world is of such a nature that one would rather not speak of it; and besides, it is so difficult to put into words that ones courage fails at the bare attempt. So it need not be at all a frivolous evasion if Maier merely hints at his conversations with Mercurius. In the encounter with life and the world there are experiences that are capable of moving us to long and thorough reflection, from which, in time, insights and convictions grow upa process depicted by the alchemists as the philosophical tree. The unfolding of these experiences is regulated, as it were, by two archetypes: the anima, who expresses life, and the Wise Old Man, who personifies meaning.591 Our author was led in the first place by the anima-sibyl to undertake the journey through the planetary houses as the precondition of all that was to follow. It is therefore only logical that, towards the end of the descent, he should meet Thrice-Greatest Hermes, the fount of all wisdom. This aptly describes the character of that spirit or thinking which you do not, like an intellectual operation, perform yourself, as the little god of this world, but which happens to you as though it came from another, and greater, perhaps the great spirit of the world, not inappositely named Trismegistus. The long reflection, the immensa meditatio of the alchemists is defined as an internal colloquy with another, who is invisible.592

[314] Possibly Maier would have revealed to us something more if Mercurius had not been in such a hurry to take upon himself the role of arbiter between the owl and the birds who were fighting it.593 This is an allusion to a work of Maiers entitled Jocus severus (Frankfurt a. M., 1617), where he defends the wisdom of alchemy against its detractors, a theme that also plays an important part in his Symbola aureae mensae in the form of argument and counterargument. One is therefore justified in assuming that Maier got into increasing conflict with himself and his environment the more he buried himself in the secret speculations of Hermetic philosophy. Indeed nothing else could have been expected, for the world of Hermetic images gravitates round the unconscious, and the unconscious compensation is always aimed at the conscious positions which are the most strongly defended because they are the most questionable, though its apparently hostile aspect merely reflects the surly face which the ego turns towards it. In reality the unconscious compensation is not intended as a hostile act but as a necessary and helpful attempt to restore the balance. For Maier it meant an inner and outer conflict which was not abolished, but only embittered, by the firmness of his convictions. For every one-sided conviction is accompanied by the voice of doubt, and certainties that are mere beliefs turn into uncertainties which may correspond better with the truth. The truth of the sic et non (yes and no), almost, but not quite, recognized by Abelard, is a difficult thing for the intellect to bear; so it is no wonder that Maier got stuck in the conflict and had to postpone his discovery of the phoenix until doomsday. Fortunately he was honest enough not to assert that he had ever made the lapis or the philosophical gold, and for this reason he never spread a veil of deception over his work. Thanks to his scrupulousness his late successors are at least able to guess how far he had progressed in the art, and where his labours came to a standstill. He never succeeded, as we can now see, in reaching the point where conflict and argument become logically superfluous, where yes and no are two aspects of the same thing. Thou wilt never make the One which thou seekest, says the master, except first there be made one thing of thyself.594

  1. The Regeneration in Sea-water

[315] After these long digressions on the interrelated symbols that branch out from the sea and its various aspects, we will resume our discussion of salt and salt-water.

[316] The aqua pontica (or aqua permanens) behaves very much like the baptismal water of the Church. Its chief function is ablution, the cleansing of the sinner, and in alchemy this is the lato, the impure body;595 hence the oft-repeated saying attri buted to Elbo Interfector:596 Whiten the lato597 and rend the books, lest your hearts be rent asunder.598 In the Rosarium the ablution599 of the lato occurs in variant form: it is cleansed not by water but by Azoth and fire,600 that is, by a kind of baptism in fire, which is often used as a synonym for water.601 The equivalent of this in the Catholic rite is the plunging of a burning candle into the font, in accordance with Matthew 3 : 11: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.602 The alchemists did not hesitate to call the transformative process a baptism. Thus the Consilium coniugii says: And if we are baptized in the fountain of gold and silver, and the spirit of our body ascends into heaven with the father and the son, and descends again, then our souls shall revive and my animal body will remain white, that is, [the body] of the moon.603 The subject of this sentence is Sol and Luna. The Aurora consurgens I distinguishes three kinds of baptism, in water, in blood, and in fire,604 the Christian ideas being here transferred directly to the chemical procedure. The same is true of the idea that baptism is a submersion in death, following Colossians 2 : 12: (Ye are) buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him. In his Table of Symbols, Penotus605 correlates the moon, the spirits and ghosts of the dead [Manes et Lemures], and gods of the underworld with the mystery of baptism, and the corresponding stage in the opus is the solutio, which signifies the total dissolution of the imperfect body in the aqua divina, its submersion, mortification,606 and burial. The putrefaction takes place in the grave, and the foul smell that accompanies it is the stench of the graves.607 The motif of imprisonment in the underworld is found in Greek alchemy, in the treatise of Komarios: Lock them [the substances] in Hades.608 The rebirth from the floods (

) of Hades and from the grave recurs in Cyril of Jerusalem: That saving flood is both your sepulchre and your mother,609 and in St. Augustine: The water leads him down, as if dying, into the grave; the Holy Spirit brings him up, as if rising again, into heaven.610

[317] The treatise of Ostanes611 says that when preparing the

, the vessel with the ingredients should be immersed in sea-water, and then the divine water will be perfected. It is, so to speak, gestated in the womb of the sea-water. The text says: This [divine] water makes the dead living and the living dead, it lights the darkness and darkens the light, concentrates [

] the sea-water and quenches fire. As this miraculous water occurs even in the oldest texts, it must be of pagan rather than of Christian origin. The oldest Chinese treatise known to us (A.D. 142) likewise contains this idea of the divine water: it is the flowing pearl (quicksilver), and the divine chi, meaning air, spirit, ethereal essence. The various essences are likened to spring showers in abundance,612 and this recalls the blessed water in the treatise of Komarios, which brings the spring.613 The age-old use of water at sacrifices and the great role it played in Egypt, where Western alchemy originated, may well have foreshadowed the water symbolism of later times. Folk ideas and superstitions such as we find in the Magic Papyri may have made their contri bution, too; the following words might just as well have been taken from an alchemical treatise: I am the plant named Bas, I am a spout of blood . . ., the outgrowth of the abyss.614 . . . I am the sacred bird Phoenix.615 . . . I am Helios. . . . I am Aphrodite. . . . I am Kronos, who has showed forth the light. . . . I am Osiris, named water, I am Isis, named dew, I am Esenephys, named spring.616 The personified

might well have spoken like that.

[318] The effect of Christian baptism is the washing away of sin and the acceptance of the neophyte into the Church as the earthly kingdom of Christ, sanctification and rebirth through grace, and the bestowal of an indelible character on the baptized. The effect of the aqua permanens is equally miraculous. The Gloria mundi says: The mystery of every thing is life, which is water; for water dissolves the body into spirit and summons a spirit from the dead.617 Dissolution into spirit, the bodys volatilization or sublimation, corresponds chemically to evaporation, or any rate to the expulsion of evaporable ingredients like quicksilver, sulphur, etc. Psychologically it corresponds to the conscious realization and integration of an unconscious content. Unconscious contents lurk somewhere in the body like so many demons of sickness, impossible to get hold of, especially when they give rise to physical symptoms the organic causes of which cannot be demonstrated. The spirit summoned from the dead is usually the spirit Mercurius, who, as the anima mundi, is inherent in all things in a latent state. It is clear from the passage immediately following that it is salt of which it is said: And that is the thing which we seek: all our secrets are contained in it. Salt, however, takes its origin from Mercurius, so salt is a synonym for the arcane substance. It also plays an important part in the Roman rite: after being blessed it is added to the consecrated water, and in the ceremony of baptism a few grains of the consecrated salt are placed in the neophytes mouth with the words: Receive the salt of wisdom: may it be a propitiation for thee unto eternal life.

[319] As the alchemists strove to produce an incorruptible glorified body, they would, if they were successful, attain that state in the albedo, where the body became spotless and no longer subject to decay. The white substance of the ash618 was therefore described as the diadem of the heart, and its synonym, the white foliated earth (terra alba foliata), as the crown of victory.619 The ash is identical with the pure water which is cleansed from the darkness of the soul, and of the black matter, for the wickedness (malitia) of base earthiness has been separated from it.620 This terrestreitas mala is the terra damnata (accursed earth) mentioned by other authors; it is what Goe the calls the trace of earth painful to bear, the moral turpitude that cannot be washed off. In Senior the ash is synonymous with vitrum (glass), which, on account of its incorruptibility and transparency, seemed to resemble the glorified body. Glass in its turn was associated with salt, for salt was praised as that virgin and pure earth, and the finest crystalline glass is composed mainly of sal Sodae (soda salts), with sand added as a binding agent. Thus the raw material of glass-making (technically known as the batch) is formed from two incorruptible substances.621 Furthermore, glass is made in the fire, the pure element. In the sharp or burning taste of salt the alchemists detected the fire dwelling within it, whose preservative property it in fact shares. Alexander of Macedon is cited as saying: Know that the salt is fire and dryness.622 Or, the salts are of fiery nature.623 Salt has an affinity with sulphur, whose nature is essentially fiery.624 Glauber maintains that fire and salt are in their essential nature one thing and are therefore held in high esteem by all sensible Christians, but the ignorant know no more of these things than a cow, a pig, or a brute, which live without understanding. He also says the Abyssinians baptized with water and fire. Without fire and salt the hea then would not have been able to offer sacrifice, and the evangelist Mark had said that every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.625

  1. The Interpretation and Meaning of Salt

[320] Salt as much as ash is a synonym for the albedo (or dealbatio), and is identical with the white stone, the white sun, the full moon, the fruitful white earth, cleansed and calcined.626 The connecting link between ash and salt is potash, and the burning and corrosive property of lye (caustic solution) is well known.627 Senior mentions that the dealbatio was known as salsatura (marination).628

[321] Some light is thrown on the numerous overlapping significations of salt, and the obscurity begins to clear up, when we are informed, further, that one of its principal meanings is soul. As the white substance it is the white woman, and the salt of our magnesia629 is a spark of the anima mundi.630 For Glauber the salt is feminine and corresponds to Eve.631 The Gloria mundi says: The salt of the earth is the soul.632 This pregnant sentence contains within it the whole ambiguity of alchemy. On the one hand the soul is the aqua permanens, which dissolves and coagulates, the arcane substance which is at once the transformer and the transformed, the nature which conquers nature. On the other hand it is the human soul imprisoned in the body as the anima mundi is in matter, and this soul undergoes the same transformations by death and purification, and finally by glorification, as the lapis. It is the tincture which coagulates all substances, indeed it even fixes (figit) itself; it comes from the centre of the earth and is the destroyed earth, nor is there anything on the earth like to the tincture.633 The soul is therefore not an earthly but a transcendental thing, regardless of the fact that the alchemists expected it to appear in a retort. This contradiction presented no difficulties to the medieval mind. There was a good reason for this: the philosophers were so fascinated by their own psychisms that, in their navet, they faithfully reproduced the inner psychic situation externally. Although the unconscious, personified by the anima, is in itself transcendental, it can appear in the sphere of consciousness, that is, in this world, in the form of an influence on conscious processes.

[322] Just as the world-soul pervades all things, so does salt. It is ubiquitous and thus fulfils the main requirement of an arcane substance, that it can be found everywhere. No doubt the reader will be as conscious as I am of how uncommonly difficult it is to give an account of salt and its ubiquitous connections. It represents the feminine principle of Eros, which brings everything into relationship, in an almost perfect way. In this respect it is surpassed only by Mercurius, and the notion that salt comes from Mercurius is therefore quite understandable. For salt, as the soul or spark of the anima mundi, is in very truth the daughter of the spiritus vegetativus of creation. Salt is far more indefinite and more universal than sulphur, whose essence is fairly well defined by its fiery nature.

[323] The relationship of salt to the anima mundi, which as we know is personified by the Primordial Man or Anthropos, brings us to the analogy with Christ. Glauber himself makes the equation Sal: Sol = A : ,634 so that salt becomes an analogue of God. According to Glauber, the sign for salt

was originally

,635 a double totality symbol; the circle representing non-differentiated wholeness, and the square discriminated wholeness.636 As a matter of fact there is another sign for salt,

in contradistinction to

Venus, who certainly has less to do with understanding and wisdom than has salt. Salt, says Glauber, was the first fiat at the creation.637 Christ is the salt of wisdom which is given at baptism.638 These ideas are elaborated by Georg von Welling: Christ is the salt, the fiat is the Word that is begotten from eternity for our preservation. Christ is the sweet, fixed salt of silent, gentle eternity. The body, when salted by Christ, becomes tinctured and therefore incorruptible.639

[324] The Christ parallel runs through the late alchemical speculations that set in after Boehme, and it was made possible by the sal: sapientia equation. Already in antiquity salt denoted wit, good sense, good taste, etc., as well as spirit. Cicero, for instance, remarks: In wit [sale] and humour Caesar . . . surpassed them all.640 But it was the Vulgate that had the most decisive influence on the formation of alchemical concepts. In the Old Testament, even the salt of the covenant641 has a moral meaning. In the New Testament, the famous words Ye are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5 : 13) show that the disciples were regarded as personifications of higher insight and divine wisdom, just as, in their role of

(proclaimers of the message), they functioned as angels (

, messengers), so that Gods kingdom on earth might approximate as closely as possible to the structure of the heavenly hierarchy. The other well-known passage is at Mark 9 : 50, ending with the words: Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another. The earliest reference to salt in the New Testament (Colossians 4 : 6) likewise has a classical flavour: Let your speech be alway with grace, and seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

[325] Here salt undoubtedly means insight, understanding, wisdom. In both Matthew and Mark the salt is liable to lose its savour. Evidently this salt must keep its tang, just as the wise virgins kept their lamps trimmed. For this purpose a flexibility of mind is needed, and the last thing to guarantee this is rigid insistence on the necessity of faith. Everyone will admit that it is the task of the Church to safeguard her store of wisdom, the aqua doctrinae, in its original purity, and yet, in response to the changing spirit of the times, she must go on altering it and differentiating it just as the Fathers did. For the cultured Greco-Roman world early Christianity was among other things a message in philosophical disguise, as we can see quite plainly from Hippolytus. It was a competing philosophical doctrine that reached a certain peak of perfection in St. Thomas. Until well into the sixteenth century the degree of philosophical truth of Christian doctrine corresponded to that of scientific truth today.

[326] The physicians and natural philosophers of the Middle Ages nevertheless found themselves faced with problems for which the Church had no answer. Confronted with sickness and death, the physicians did not hesitate to seek counsel with the Arabs and so resuscitate that bit of the ancient world which the Church thought she had exterminated for ever, namely the Mandaean and Sabaean remnants of Hellenistic syncretism. From them they derived a sal sapientiae that seemed so unlike the doctrine of the Church that before long a process of mutual assimilation arose which put forth some very remarkable blossoms. The ecclesiastical allegories kept, so far as I can judge, to the classical usage of Sal. Only St. Hilary (d. 367) seems to have gone rather more deeply into the nature of salt when he remarks that salt contains in itself the element of water and fire, and by this is one out of two.642 Picinellus observes: Two elements which stir up an implacable enmity between themselves are found in wondrous alliance in salt. For salt is wholly fire and wholly water.643 For the rest he advises a sparing use of salt: Let the word be sprinkled with salt, not deluged with it,644 and another, earlier allegorist, the Jesuit Nicholas Caussin,645 does not mention salt at all.

[327] This is not altogether surprising, for how do wisdom and revelation square with one another? As certain books of the Old Testament canon show, there is, besides the wisdom of God which expresses itself in revelation, a human wisdom which cannot be had unless one works for it. Mark 9 : 50 therefore exhorts us to make sure that we always have enough salt in us, and he is certainly not referring to divine revelation, for this is something no man can produce on his own resources. But at least he can cultivate and increase his own human wisdom. That Mark should offer this warning, and that Paul should express himself in a very similar way, is in accord with the traditional Judeo-Hellenism of the Jewish communities at that time. An authoritarian Church, however, leaves very little room for the salt of human wisdom. Hence it is not surprising that the sal sapientiae plays an incomparably greater role outside the Church. Irenaeus, reporting the views of the Gnostics, says: The spiritual, they say, [is] sent forth to this end, that, being united here below with the psychic, it may take form, and be instructed simultaneously by intercourse with it. And this they declare to be the salt and the light of the world.646 The union of the spiritual, masculine principle with the feminine, psychic principle is far from being just a fantasy of the Gnostics: it has found an echo in the Assumption of the Virgin, in the union of Tifereth and Malchuth, and in Goethes the Eternal Feminine leads us upward and on. Hippolytus mentions this same view as that of the Sethians. He says:

But when this wave is raised from the water by the wind and made pregnant in its nature, and has received within itself the reproductive power of the feminine, it retains the light scattered from on high together with the fragrance of the spirit [

],647 and that is Nous given shape in various forms. This [light] is a perfect God, who is brought down from the unbegotten light on high and from the spirit into mans nature as into a temple, by the power of nature and the movement of the wind. It is engendered from the water and commingled and mixed with the bodies as if it were the salt of all created things, and a light of the darkness struggling to be freed from the bodies, and not able to find a way out. For some very small spark of the light is mingled with the fragrance from above. . . . [Here follows a corrupt and controversial passage which I pass over.] . . . Therefore every thought and care of the light from above is how and in what way the Nous may be delivered from the death of the sinful and dark body, from the father below [

],648 who is the wind which raised up the waves in tumult and terror, and begot Nous his own perfect son, who is yet not his own son in substance. For he was a ray of light from on high, from that perfect light overpowered in the dark and terrible, bitter polluted water, and a shining spirit carried away over the water 649

[328] This strangely beautiful passage contains pretty well everything that the alchemists endeavoured to say about salt: it is the spirit, the turning of the body into light (albedo), the spark of the anima mundi, imprisoned in the dark depths of the sea and begotten there by the light from above and the reproductive power of the feminine. It should be noted that the alchemists could have known nothing of Hippolytus, as his Philosophumena, long believed lost, was rediscovered only in the middle of the nineteenth century in a monastery on Mount Athos. Anyone familiar with the spirit of alchemy and the views of the Gnostics in Hippolytus will be struck again and again by their inner affinity.

[329] The clue to this passage from the Elenchos, and to other similar ones, is to be found in the phenomenology of the self.650 Salt is not a very common dream-symbol, but it does appear in the cubic form of a crystal,651 which in many patients drawings represents the centre and hence the self; similarly, the quaternary structure of most mandalas reminds one of the sign for salt

mentioned earlier. Just as the numerous synonyms and attri butes of the lapis stress now one and now another of its aspects, so do the symbols of the self. Apart from its preservative quality salt has mainly the metaphorical meaning of sapientia. With regard to this aspect the Tractatus aureus states: It is said in the mystic language of our sages, He who works without salt will never raise dead bodies. . . . He who works without salt draws a bow without a string. For you must know that these sayings refer to a very different kind of salt from the common mineral. . . . Sometimes they call the medicine itself Salt. 652 These words are ambiguous: here salt means wit as well as wisdom. As to the importance of salt in the opus, Johannes Grasseus says of the arcane substance: And this is the Lead of the Philosophers, which they also call the lead of the air. In it is found the shining white dove, named the salt of the metals, wherein is the whole magistery of the work. This [dove] is the pure, chaste, wise, and rich Queen of Sheba.653 Here salt, arcane substance (the paradoxical lead of the air), the white dove (spiritus sapientiae), wisdom, and femininity appear in one figure. The saying from the Gloria mundi is quite clear: No man can understand this Art who does not know the salt and its preparation.654 For the Aquarium sapientum the sal sapientiae comes from the aqua benedicta or aqua pontica, which, itself an extract, is named heart, soul, and spirit. At first the aqua is contained in the prima materia and is of a blood-red colour; but after its preparation it becomes of a bright, clear, transparent white, and is called by the sages the Salt of Wisdom.655 Khunrath boldly summarizes these statements about the salt when he says: Our water cannot be made without the salt of wisdom, for it is the salt of wisdom itself, say the philosophers; a fire, and a salt fire, the true Living Universal Menstruum. Without salt the work has no success.656 Elsewhere he remarks: Not without good reason has salt been adorned by the wise with the name of Wisdom. Salt is the lapis, a mystery to be hidden.657 Vigenerus says that the Redeemer chose his disciples that they might be the salt of men and proclaim to them the pure and incorruptible doctrine of the gospel. He reports the Cabalists as saying that the computatio658 of the Hebrew word for salt (melach) gives the number 78. This number could be divided by any divisor and still give a word that referred to the divine Name. We will not pursue the inferences he draws from this but will only note that for all those reasons salt was used for the service of God in all offerings and sacrifices.659 Glauber calls Christ the sal sapientiae and says that his favourite disciple John was salted with the salt of wisdom.660

[330] Apart from its lunar wetness and its terrestrial nature, the most outstanding properties of salt are bitterness and wisdom. As in the double quaternio of the elements and qualities, earth and water have coldness in common, so bitterness and wisdom would form a pair of opposites with a third thing between. (See diagram on facing page.) The factor common to both, however incommensurable the two ideas may seem, is, psychologically, the function of feeling. Tears, sorrow, and disappointment are bitter, but wisdom is the comforter in all psychic suffering. Indeed, bitterness and wisdom form a pair of alternatives: where there is bitterness wisdom is lacking, and where wisdom is there can be no bitterness. Salt, as the carrier of this fateful alternative, is co-ordinated with the nature of woman. The masculine, solar nature in the right half of the quaternio knows neither coldness, nor a shadow, nor heaviness, melancholy, etc., because, so long as all goes well, it identifies as closely as possible with consciousness, and that as a rule is the idea which one has of oneself. In this idea the shadow is usually missing: first because nobody likes to admit to any inferiority, and second because logic forbids something white to be called black. A good man has good qualities, and only the bad man has bad qualities. For reasons of prestige we pass over the shadow in complete silence. A famous example of masculine prejudice is Nietzsches Superman, who scorns compassion and fights against the Ugliest Man the ordinary man that everyone is. The shadow must not be seen, it must be denied, repressed, or twisted into something quite extraordinary. The sun is always shining and everything smiles back. There is no room for any prestige-diminishing weakness, so the sol niger is never seen. Only in solitary hours is its presence feared.

[331] Things are different with Luna: every month she is darkened and extinguished; she cannot hide this from anybody, not even from herself. She knows that this same Luna is now bright and now dark but who has ever heard of a dark sun? We call this quality of Luna womans closeness to nature, and the fiery brilliance and hot air that plays round the surface of things we like to call the masculine mind.

[332] Despite all attempts at denial and obfuscation there is an unconscious factor, a black sun, which is responsible for the surprisingly common phenomenon of masculine split-mindedness, when the right hand mustnt know what the left is doing. This split in the masculine psyche and the regular darkening of the moon in woman together explain the remarkable fact that the woman is accused of all the darkness in a man, while he himself basks in the thought that he is a veritable fount of vitality and illumination for all the females in his environment. Actually, he would be better advised to shroud the brilliance of his mind in the profoundest doubt. It is not difficult for this type of mind (which besides other things is a great trickster like Mercurius) to admit a host of sins in the most convincing way, and even to combine it with a spurious feeling of ethical superiority without in the least approximating to a genuine insight. This can never be achieved without the participation of feeling; but the intellect admits feeling only when it is convenient. The novilunium of woman is a source of countless disappointments for man which easily turn to bitterness, though they could equally well be a source of wisdom if they were understood. Naturally this is possible only if he is prepared to acknowledge his black sun, that is, his shadow.

[333] Confirmation of our interpretation of salt as Eros (i.e., as a feeling relationship) is found in the fact that the bitterness is the origin of the colours (par. 245). We have only to look at the drawings and paintings of patients who supplement their analysis by active imagination to see that colours are feeling-values. Mostly, to begin with, only a pencil or pen is used to make rapid sketches of dreams, sudden ideas, and fantasies. But from a certain moment on the patients begin to make use of colour, and this is generally the moment when merely intellectual interest gives way to emotional participation. Occasionally the same phenomenon can be observed in dreams, which at such moments are dreamt in colour, or a particularly vivid colour is insisted upon.

[334] Disappointment, always a shock to the feelings, is not only the mother of bitterness but the strongest incentive to a differentiation of feeling. The failure of a pet plan, the disappointing behaviour of someone one loves, can supply the impulse either for a more or less brutal outburst of affect or for a modification and adjustment of feeling, and hence for its higher development. This culminates in wisdom if feeling is supplemented by reflection and rational insight. Wisdom is never violent: where wisdom reigns there is no conflict between thinking and feeling.

[335] This interpretation of salt and its qualities prompts us to ask, as in all cases where alchemical statements are involved, whether the alchemists themselves had such thoughts. We know from the literature that they were thoroughly aware of the moral meaning of the amaritudo, and by sapientia they did not mean anything essentially different from what we understand by this word. But how the wisdom comes from the bitterness, and how the bitterness can be the source of the colours, on these points they leave us in the dark. Nor have we any reason to believe that these connections were so self-evident to them that they regarded any explanation as superfluous. If that were so, someone would have been sure to blurt it out. It is much more probable that they simply said these things without any conscious act of cognition. Moreover, the sum of all these statements is seldom or never found consistently formulated in any one author; rather one author mentions one thing and another another, and it is only by viewing them all together, as we have tried to do here, that we get the whole picture.661 The alchemists themselves suggest this method, and I must admit that it was their advice which first put me on the track of a psychological interpretation. The Rosarium says one should read from page to page, and other sayings are He should possess many books and One book opens another. Yet the complete lack, until the nineteenth century, of any psychological viewpoint (which even today meets with the grossest misunderstandings) makes it very unlikely that anything resembling a psychological interpretation penetrated into the consciousness of the alchemists. Their moral concepts moved entirely on the plane of synonym and analogy, in a word, of correspondence. Most of their statements spring not from a conscious but from an unconscious act of thinking, as do dreams, sudden ideas, and fantasies, where again we only find out the meaning afterwards by careful comparison and analysis.

[336] But the greatest of all riddles, of course, is the ever-recurring question of what the alchemists really meant by their substances. What, for instance, is the meaning of a sal spirituale? The only possible answer seems to be this: chemical matter was so completely unknown to them that it instantly became a carrier for projections. Its darkness was so loaded with unconscious contents that a state of participation mystique,662 or unconscious identity, arose between them and the chemical substance, which caused this substance to behave, at any rate in part, like an unconscious content. Of this relationship the alchemists had a dim presentimentenough, anyway, to enable them to make statements which can only be understood as psychological.

[337] Khunrath says: And the Light was made Salt, a body of salt, the salt of wisdom.663 The same author remarks that the point in the midst of the salt corresponds to the Tartarus of the greater world, which is hell.664 This coincides with the conception of the fire hidden in the salt. Salt must have the paradoxical double nature of the arcane substance. Thus the Gloria mundi says that in the salt are two salts, namely sulphur and the radical moisture, the two most potent opposites imaginable, for which reason it was also called the Rebis.665 Vigenerus asserts that salt consists of two substances, since all salts partake of sulphur and quicksilver.666 These correspond to Khunraths king and queen, the two waters, red and white.667 During the work the salt assumes the appearance of blood.668 It is certain, says Dorn, that a salt, the natural balsam of the body, is begotten from human blood. It has within it both corruption and preservation against corruption, for in the natural order there is nothing that does not contain as much evil as good.669 Dorn was a physician, and his remark is characteristic of the empirical standpoint of the alchemists.

[338] The dark nature of salt accounts for its blackness and foetid smell.670 At the dissolution of living bodies it is the last residue of corruption, but it is the prime agent in generation.671 Mylius expressly identifies salt with the uroboros-dragon.672 We have already mentioned its identification with the sea of Typhon; hence one could easily identify it with the sea-monster Leviathan.673 At all events there is an amusing relationship between salt and the Leviathan in Abraham Eleazar, who says with reference to Job 40 : 15:674 For Behemoth is a wild ox, whom the Most High has salted up with Leviathan and preserved for the world to come,675 evidently as food for the inhabitants of paradise,676 or whatever the world to come may mean.

[339] Another direful aspect of salt is its relation to the malefic Saturn, as is implied by Grasseus in that passage about the white dove and the philosophical lead. Speaking of the identity of sea and salt, Vigenerus points out that the Pythagoreans called the sea the tear of Kronos, because of its bitter saltness.677 On account of its relation to Typhon salt is also endowed with a murderous quality,678 as we saw in the chapter on Sulphur, where Sal inflicts on Sulphur an incurable wound. This offers a curious parallel to Kundrys wounding of Amfortas in Parsifal. In the parable of Sulphur Sal plays the sinister new-moon role of Luna.

[340] As a natural product, salt contains as much evil as good. As the sea it is the

, mother of all things; as the tear of Kronos it is bitterness and sadness; as the sea-spume it is the scum of Typhon, and as the clear water it is Sapientia herself.

[341] The Gloria mundi says that the aqua permanens is a very limpid water, so bitter as to be quite undrinkable.679 In a hymn-like invocation the text continues: O water of bitter taste, that preservest the elements! O nature of propinquity, that dissolvest nature! O best of natures, which overcomest nature herself! . . . Thou art crowned with light and art born . . . and the quintessence ariseth from thee.680 This water is like none on earth, with the exception of that fount in Judaea which is named the Fount of the Saviour or of Blessedness. With great efforts and by the grace of God the philosophers found that noble spring. But the spring is in a place so secret that only a few know of its gushing, and they know not the way to Judaea where it might be found. Therefore the philosopher681 cries out: O water of harsh and bitter taste! For it is hard and difficult for any man to find that spring.682 This is an obvious allusion to the arcane nature and moral significance of the water, and it is also evident that it is not the water of grace or the water of the doctrine but that it springs from the lumen naturae. Otherwise the author would not have emphasized that Judaea was in a secret place, for if the Churchs teachings were meant no one would need to find them in a secret place, since they are accessible to everyone. Also, it would be quite incomprehensible why the philosopher should exclaim: O water, held worthless by all! By reason of its worthlessness and tortuousness683 no one can attain perfection in the art, or perceive its mighty virtue; for all four elements are, as it were, contained in it. There can be no doubt that this is the aqua permanens or aqua pontica, the primal water which contains the four elements.

[342] The psychological equivalent of the chaotic water of the beginning684 is the unconscious, which the old writers could grasp only in projected form, just as today most people cannot see the beam in their own eye but are all too well aware of the mote in their brothers. Political propaganda exploits this primitivity and conquers the naive with their own defect. The only defence against this overwhelming danger is recognition of the shadow. The sight of its darkness is itself an illumination, a widening of consciousness through integration of the hitherto unconscious components of the personality. Freuds efforts to bring the shadow to consciousness are the logical and salutary answer to the almost universal unconsciousness and projection-proneness of the general public. It is as though Freud, with sure instinct, had sought to avert the danger of nation-wide psychic epidemics that threatened Europe. What he did not see was that the confrontation with the shadow is not just a harmless affair that can be settled by reason. The shadow is the primitive who is still alive and active in civilized man, and our civilized reason means nothing to him. He needs to be ruled by a higher authority, such as is found in the great religions. Even when Reason triumphed at the beginning of the French Revolution it was quickly turned into a goddess and enthroned in Notre-Dame.

[343] The shadow exerts a dangerous fascination which can be countered only by another fascinosum. It cannot be got at by reason, even in the most rational person, but only by illumination, of a degree and kind that are equal to the darkness but are the exact opposite of enlightenment. For what we call rational is everything that seems fitting to the man in the street, and the question then arises whether this fitness may not in the end prove to be irrational in the bad sense of the word. Sometimes, even with the best intentions this dilemma cannot be solved. This is the moment when the primitive trusts himself to a higher authority and to a decision beyond his comprehension. The civilized man in his closed-in environment functions in a fitting and appropriate manner, that is, rationally. But if, because of some apparently insoluble dilemma, he gets outside the confines of civilization, he becomes a primitive again; then he has irrational ideas and acts on hunches; then he no longer thinks but it thinks in him; then he needs magical practices in order to gain a feeling of security; then the latent autonomy of the unconscious becomes active and begins to manifest itself as it has always done in the past.

[344] The good tidings announced by alchemy are that, as once a fountain sprang up in Judaea, so now there is a secret Judaea the way to which is not easily found, and a hidden spring whose waters seem so worthless685 and so bitter that they are deemed of no use at all. We know from numerous hints686 that mans inner life is the secret place where the aqua solvens et coagulans, the medicina catholica or panacea, the spark of the light of nature,687 are to be found. Our text shows us how much the alchemists put their art on the level of divine revelation and regarded it as at least an essential complement to the work of redemption. True, only a few of them were the elect who formed the golden chain linking earth to heaven, but still they were the fathers of natural science today. They were the unwitting instigators of the schism between faith and knowledge, and it was they who made the world conscious that the revelation was neither complete nor final. Since these things are so, says an ecclesiastic of the seventeenth century, it will suffice, after the light of faith, for human ingenuity to recognize, as it were, the refracted rays of the Divine majesty in the world and in created things.688 The refracted rays correspond to the certain luminosity which the alchemists said was inherent in the natural world.

[345] Revelation conveys general truths which often do not illuminate the individuals actual situation in the slightest, nor was it traditional revelation that gave us the microscope and the machine. And since human life is not enacted exclusively, or even to a noticeable degree, on the plane of the higher verities, the source of knowledge unlocked by the old alchemists and physicians has done humanity a great and welcome serviceso great that for many people the light of revelation has been extinguished altogether. Within the confines of civilization mans wilful rationality apparently suffices. Outside of this shines, or should shine, the light of faith. But where the darkness comprehendeth it not (this being the prerogative of darkness!) those labouring in the darkness must try to accomplish an opus that will cause the fishes eyes to shine in the depths of the sea, or to catch the refracted rays of the divine majesty even though this produces a light which the darkness, as usual, does not comprehend. But when there is a light in the darkness which comprehends the darkness, darkness no longer prevails. The longing of the darkness for light is fulfilled only when the light can no longer be rationally explained by the darkness. For the darkness has its own peculiar intellect and its own logic, which should be taken very seriously. Only the light which the darkness comprehendeth not can illuminate the darkness. Everything that the darkness thinks, grasps, and comprehends by itself is dark; therefore it is illuminated only by what, to it, is unexpected, unwanted, and incomprehensible. The psycho therapeutic method of active imagination offers excellent examples of this; sometimes a numinous dream or some external event will have the same effect.

[346] Alchemy announced a source of knowledge, parallel if not equivalent to revelation, which yields a bitter water by no means acceptable to our human judgment. It is harsh and bitter or like vinegar,689 for it is a bitter thing to accept the darkness and blackness of the umbra solis and to pass through this valley of the shadow. It is bitter indeed to discover behind ones lofty ideals narrow, fanatical convictions, all the more cherished for that, and behind ones heroic pretensions nothing but crude egotism, infantile greed, and complacency. This painful corrective is an unavoidable stage in every psycho therapeutic process. As the alchemists said, it begins with the nigredo, or generates it as the indispensable prerequisite for synthesis, for unless the opposites are constellated and brought to consciousness they can never be united. Freud halted the process at the reduction to the inferior half of the personality and tended to overlook the daemonic dangerousness of the dark side, which by no means consists only of relatively harmless infantilisms. Man is neither so reasonable nor so good that he can cope eo ipso with evil. The darkness can quite well engulf him, especially when he finds himself with those of like mind. Mass-mindedness increases unconsciousness and then the evil swells like an avalanche, as contemporary events have shown. Even so, society can also work for good; it is even necessary because of the moral weakness of most human beings, who, to maintain themselves at all, must have some external good to cling on to. The great religions are psycho therapeutic systems that give a foothold to all those who cannot stand by themselves, and they are in the overwhelming majority.

[347] In spite of their undoubtedly heretical methods the alchemists showed by their positive attitude to the Church that they were cleverer than certain modern apostles of enlightenment. Alsovery much in contrast to the rationalistic tendencies of todaythey displayed, despite its tortuousness, a remarkable understanding of the imagery upon which the Christian cosmos is built. This world of images, in its historical form, is irretrievably lost to modern man; its loss has spiritually impoverished the masses and compelled them to find pitiful substitutes, as poisonous as they are worthless. No one can be held responsible for this development. It is due rather to the restless tempo of spiritual growth and change, whose motive forces go far beyond the horizon of the individual. He can only hope to keep pace with it and try to understand it so far that he is not blindly swallowed up by it. For that is the alarming thing about mass movements, even if they are good, that they demand and must demand blind faith. The Church can never explain the truth of her images because she acknowledges no point of view but her own. She moves solely within the framework of her images, and her arguments must always beg the question. The flock of harmless sheep was ever the symbolic prototype of the credulous crowd, though the Church is quick to recognize the wolves in sheeps clothing who lead the faith of the multitude astray in order to destroy them. The tragedy is that the blind trust which leads to perdition is practised just as much inside the Church and is praised as the highest virtue. Yet our Lord says: Be ye therefore wise as serpents,690 and the Bible itself stresses the cleverness and cunning of the serpent. But where are these necessary if not altogether praiseworthy qualities developed and given their due? The serpent has become a by-word for everything morally abhorrent, and yet anyone who is not as smart as a snake is liable to land himself in trouble through blind faith.

[348] The alchemists knew about the snake and the cold half of nature,691 and they said enough to make it clear to their successors that they endeavoured by their art to lead that serpentine Nous of the darkness, the serpens mercurialis, through the stages of transformation to the goal of perfection (telesmus).692 The more or less symbolical or projected integration of the unconscious that went hand in hand with this evidently had so many favourable effects that the alchemists felt encouraged to express a tempered optimism.


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