Lecture VII 13th June, 1941

We finished the excerpts from the writings of the alchemists on the scientia in the last lecture, and come today to an almost synonymous idea, that of the sapientia (wisdom).

IX. Sapientia

You saw that the alchemists used the term “scientia” in a very wide sense, and that they regarded it as something exceedingly mysterious.

The same is true of the “sapientia”, which even appears personified as a highly mysterious figure.

Wisdom is personified as early as the book of the “Wisdom of Solomon” (Apocrypha].

In Gnosticism wisdom appears as the famous Sophia, sometimes represented as the youngest daughter of the creator of the world, or as the feminine counterpart of Christ, and sometimes as
the virgin of light.

The sapientia appears in a very substantial form in alchemy.

Wisdom is attained, so the alchemists say, through the union of chemistry and theosophy.

Of course one must not understand the latter as modern theosophy (Madame Blavatzky], or anthroposophy (Herr Steiner], although it is possible to compare these movements with earlier movements.

In the Middle Ages, however, the term “theosophia” meant the wisdom or knowledge of God, in a much more restricted Christian sense than in theosophy or anthroposophy.

These modern movements are syncretistic phenomena, mosaics put together from the literature of all times and places; and for this reason they can be compared with the Hellenistic mystery religions
of the first and second centuries.

That age has much in common with our present epoch; for our age also is a time when the Weltanschauung of the last two thousand years is decaying.

We hate to admit this, but we must face the facts; and it is undoubtedly a fact that a large part of Europe has somehow slipped out of the Christian Weltanschauung.

Our first passage comes from the “Aurora Consurgens”, l which I have often quoted before.

The Sapientia plays a leading role in this text, it appears personified in action and conversation.

In this excerpt it speaks as the “sapientia austri” (the wisdom of the South]:

“The wisdom of the south wind says: Come ye sons, hearken unto me, and I will teach you the science of the Lord.”

Again here “scientia Domini” could mean the wisdom which God possesses, or the wisdom which man possesses about God.

But in this case we can be pretty sure that the “sapientia austri, as in Gnosticism, is either the daughter of God or his feminine counterpart, for she transmits the scientia, the knowledge.

The “scientia”, of which we spoke in the last lecture, originates in the sapientia, which is the mother, the old Sophia.

But why is it “sapientia austri”, the wisdom of the South, or, translated more exactly, “the wisdom of the south wind”?

The author of this treatise was, as you know, a cleric, he speaks mainly in quotations and knew the Vulgate by heart.

He refers here to Job IX. 9: “Which maketh Arcturus, Orion and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south. Which doeth great things past finding out; yea and wonders without number.”

The idea which must have attracted our author in this text is the “chambers of the south”, this expression suggests that God hid his secrets inside the south wind.

It is not expressly stated in the text, but the chambers of the south wind probably suggested to our author the idea of a vase or vessel in which the secrets of God were hidden.

The curious thing is that the south wind is also a demon, it is to be met with in other passages in the alchemistic literature as the demon of the south.

This idea again originates in the Old Testament, where the South wind is a wind which parches, and is a danger to all cultivation because it brings the heat of the desert.

And it is this most dangerous and dreaded demon, which contains the secrets of God hidden in its innermost.

I will say no more about this at present, for we shall come to another passage later where it is explained more clearly.

Dorneus says about wisdom:

“Water gushes forth from the fountain of wisdom, which brings about reconciliation when enemies drink therefrom.”

Wisdom is compared to a spring or fountain in this passage.

This is an old metaphor which is already to be met with in the Old Testament.

This water unites all hostile elements or factors, and, when it is a matter of people, enemies are reconciled.

So this water has a reconciling effect.

It is the “aqua divina” which equals the “prima materia”, the primal substance of the beginning which contains all the opposites and which at the same time is beyond the opposites.

When the alchemists apply this water to their substances it has the miraculous effect of reconciling all hostile elements and uniting them finally in the indivisible substance of the philosophers’ stone.

But, at the same time, it is to be understood morally, in that wisdom is essentially conciliatory.

Wisdom does not bring about quarrels, but reconciles all conflicts.

The same author says:

“0 wonderful wisdom which, by the mere word, can ultimately bring forth, from a point so small that it is almost impossible to conceive, everything in this enormous machine and in this
powerful and weighty mass.”

This means that it is the sapientia, wisdom, which has brought forth the whole machinery of the world, and the immense mass of the universe through the mere word and from an almost
inconceivably small point.

We see here that the sapientia is identified with the world creating word, with the logos.

We find the same idea in its Christian aspect in the opening words of the Gospel of St. John

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made
that was made.”

Mylius gives us another insight into the nature of the sapientia.

He says:

“There are three principles of all things: God, wisdom and the materia.”

This is an alchemistic confession of faith.

Like the Christian creed it speaks of a trinity or rather of a triad, for it is a purely Gnostic triad: God, Sophia and the Hyle, the substance of the world. We shall speak of this triad later.

There is a passage in the “Rosarium Philosophorum” where the Sapientia is again personified.

You will remember that this anonymous treatise comes from the fifteenth century, and was first printed in 1550.

The Sapientia says:

“I am the only daughter of the wise, entirely unknown to the stupid.”

The author identifies the sapientia with the secret of the philosophers; and here she is not represented as the mother but as the daughter.

Perhaps you know that the Gnostics often represented wisdom as the youngest daughter or as the dark daughter of Bythos (the abyss).

You will find the legend of Sophia and her peculiar love story in the writings of Irenaeus, one of the Fathers of the Church.

Sophia was consumed with passionate love for her ancient ancestor Bythos, the primordial abyss, because she had slipped down into the Hyle and could no longer find the father in the
darkness of the materia.

Here again we find the idea of a spark or emanation of God which is lost in the darkness of matter, or which has been planted there as a seed by God.

We find a passage in the Liber Quartorum which is interesting in the same connection.

The Liber Quartorum is a very ancient text and probably originated mainly in Alexandrian philosophy.

It says:

“The philosopher finds the spirit of the wise (ingenium sapientum) in nature.”

We are told here that wisdom is to be found in nature. This “ingenium” is exactly Sophia, who has lost herself in matter (hyle), in nature.

The sapientia is very often connected in a mysterious way with mercury, and one alchemistic author says:

“It is impossible to win the treasure of the wise from ordinary mercury.”

It is not a matter of ordinary mercury, the treasure cannot be won from this, but of course only from the “mercury of the philosophers.”

This is another secret name for the substance which the alchemists searched for or prepared, and which always remained unknown.

We read in another text:

“The fire, with which it is sublimated, is called the fire of wisdom and also a steaming fire.”

A steaming fire is obviously not an ordinary fire [which would only produce smoke), but must be a mixture of fire and water, that is a mixture of the opposites.

One could express the same thing by saying that wisdom is produced through the conflict of the opposites.

We read in the same treatise:

“In the process it is necessary to use the salt of wisdom which is blood red inside.”

Obviously it is no ordinary salt which is meant, but again a symbol.

You remember the well-known words of Christ: “Ye are the salt of the earth”, that is, the salt of wisdom.

Our text tells us that this salt is blood red inwardly.

This means that it has a soul, for blood and soul were identical in the ancient conception.

Therefore the trans-substantiated wine, which becomes the blood of Christ in the Mass, is the anima, that is the soul, of Christ.

Wisdom is also often represented as a liquid, as we have already seen, therefore the alchemists speak of it in connection with the transformation of their substances.

The Aurora Consurgens says:

“And he shall be called redeemed when the Lord washes away the filth of the daughters of Sian through the spirit of wisdom and mind.”

The spirit is made identical with water in this ablution.

The same text calls the sapientia “red gold “, “the tincture of wisdom ” and the “fire of the dyers”.

Dyers use such liquids.

These again are paradoxical figures of speech which are used to characterise this mysterious substance.

It is also called the “terra sapientiae” (earth of wisdom”) and is thus synonymous with lead, which is also referred to as the “earth of wisdom”, because it is different inside and out.

Outside it is grey and uncouth, whereas inside it is white.

There are other passages where we hear that a white dove lives in the lead, or that it is red inside.

The underlying idea always is that, in a mysterious way, the lead possesses a soul.

It plays the same role as the quicksilver in early alchemy, because it is easily liquefied.

Therefore Mylius says that the earth of wisdom equals lead and that: “The liquid second part of lead is called the water of wisdom.”

The water of wisdom is in the lead, as this passage says.

This is incomprehensible to us, but we must remember that substances, bodies, even dead bodies, were always animated for our forefathers, therefore it was natural for them to look
for the water of wisdom in substances.

And moreover the idea, that wisdom was a water, played a very important role in early Christianity and in pre-Christian days, and also in Gnosticism.

The baptismal water, for instance, is such a water of wisdom, a divine water which possesses miraculous, transforming qualities.

This was the reason for the water Eucharist in early Christianity.

Originally the chalice was not always filled with wine, but often with water.

Hippolytus, who died at the beginning of the third century, interpreted this later chalice as a sort of piscina, a font filled with baptismal water.

The water of this chalice had the same effect on the soul as the baptismal water had on the body.

Baptism was understood as a sort of ablution, a washing of the body; and the water in the chalice was understood as a means of bathing the soul.

From this point of view the chalice corresponds in Christianity to the hermetic vase in alchemy.

And both are parallels to the Gnostic idea of the vessel filled with Nous, which I spoke of in commenting on the advice of Zosimos, to his friend Theosebeia, to go down to the Poimandres and plunge
herself in the krater.

The importance of knowing what we do, of consciousness, which is emphasised in this Gnostic legend of the bath of Nous, also appears in the New Testament and still more clearly in the
extra-canonical sayings of Christ.

There is a story (which was formerly in St. Luke’s Gospel), in which Christ, when walking with his disciples on the Sabbath, met a man who was working on his land.

Christ spoke to him and said: “If thou knowest what thou art doing thou art blest, but if thou knowest not, then thou art cursed.”

It is the arch-sin, to do something unconscious!

If, because the condition of unconsciousness is a condition of abysmal darkness, in crying need of redemption.

It is mainly from unconsciousness that all sins and evil arise; this fact was already realised in antiquity.

There is a Gnostic collection of poems, belonging to the second century, A. D . called the “Odes of Solomon”.

The sixth ode is called “The Water of the Lord” and shows clearly the veneration in which the Divine Water was held in Gnostic circles:

“As the breath of the wind bloweth through the harp
awakening song in every string,
so doth the breath of the Lord’s spirit pass through my limbs,
that in his love I als o sing.
All that is false he destroyeth,
and everything which is malignant;
for thus it was in the beginning,
and thus it will be till the end.
Nothing will stand against him,
and nothing will oppose him.
The Lord hath increased his understanding
and hath revealed his gracious gifts to us.
So we give praise unto his name;
our spirits sing praises to his Holy Spirit.

For a little stream hath sprung up,
and hath become a broad and mighty river;
for everything hath it torn away and ground to powder,
and it hath swept away the Temple.
Nothing could restrain it, no dam nor building,
nor the art of any dyke builder.
For it hath flowed over the face of the whole earth,
And hath filled up everything.
All those that thirsted have drunk from it,
and their thirst was quenched and relieved,
for the drink was the gift of the Most High.
Blessed therefore are the servants of this drink,
His water was entrusted to them,
for refreshment have they brought to the dry lips,
and awakening to the will which had grown weak, I
the souls, which had almost departed, have they rescued from death,
and the members, which had fallen, have they set up again.
They have given strength to their weakness,
and light to their eyes;
for they all knew themselves in the Lord
and were redeemed by the eternal, immortal water.
Hallelujah.”

This text shows you plainly that the eternal water, the hydor theion, was a general idea at that time and only receded into the background in the course of history.

The Roman Catholic order of the Mass, which abolished the water chalice, was not the least among the reasons for the disappearance of the symbol of the water.

In the Mass, the water is only retained in the commixtio, where a little water is mixed with the wine, which is a last remnant of the water Eucharist.

The significance of the water Eucharist shows us that the Mass is really a purely symbolic procedure, though some of the sacramental words which are used seem to give it the character of a memorial.

Another alchemist, Khunrath, says of the Sapientia:

“The s alt of wisdom is a fire, yea, a fire of salt.”

As you see the synonyms pile up, o n e could almost say that the idea is becoming hybrid.

Fire is a well-known symbol for the Holy Ghost, in the miracle of the day of Pentecost, for instance, the Holy Ghost became visible as the cloven tongues of fire which came down from Heaven (Acts II.1.).

One of the old Greek authors describes the way that mercury reaches the ” condition of wisdom” through sublimation.

This is naturally very difficult for us to understand, because we consider wisdom as an essentially human quality.

But it is understood in this passage as a quality of the substance.

This means that, according to the old alchemistic idea, mercury can be transformed through the torture of the fire.

A natural spirit participates in the darkness of nature, or is imprisoned in it; and when this spirit is purified or sublimated, by means of the fire, it becomes the spirit of wisdom.

The alchemist, therefore, strove to attain wisdom through the transformation of nature, which he subjected for this purpose to torture by the fire.

Another very old treatise shows us another aspect of the Sapientia.

It mentions the place where wisdom is to be found, where its home is, so to speak.

The text says:

“The house stands in the belly of the earth. It can only be perfected through the fire and this is the perfecting of our wisdom.”

Wisdom is represented as a house in some of the texts, in the “Aurora Consurgens” for instance (a text which I have often mentioned) it is spoken of as a house with many doors.

But it is a very curious idea that this house should be perfected by fire.

f a house catches fire it is destroyed, so this again is a paradox: it is the great destroyer of houses, fire, which brings this substance, this house, to its most perfect flowering, in exact contradiction
to outer reality.

Or we could also say: it is by means of the fire that wisdom, lying concealed in an uncouth shell (described as a house in this text), is brought forth.

We come now to an excerpt from the German treatise of the medieval alchemist, Khunrath, who wrote at the end of the sixteenth century.

He says: “The centre of the great edifice of the whole world is wisdom. For it is not only the bond, but als o the destroyer of all destructible things – yes, it is the central point of salt, Tartarus
mundi maioris = Sal sapientiae.”

This needs some explanation.

We must remember that the earth was regarded as the centre of the universe at that time, and that the alchemists speak from that point of view.

You remember the excerpt from the “Allegoriae Spientum”, which I have just mentioned, where the “house of wisdom” was in the “belly of the earth”.

We find exactly the same idea in this passage from Khunrath, only it is expressed here as a point, the so-called “central point of salt”.

This point is also called “Tartarus mundi maioris”.

Tartarus is the underworld, hell, and our forefathers located it as inside the world.

“Tartarus mundi maioris” means the underworld of the whole world.

And it is in this dark abyss that the whole universe is centred, and it is here that the salt of wisdom is to be found.

In other words the salt of wisdom equals hell.

This is an almost unthinkable paradox.

The salt of wisdom is the most desirable and marvellous thing which exists, which we strive for all our lives, and at the same time it is hell.

This is the same paradoxical idea that we found in the lead, the heaviest and most uncouth substance and at the as me thing the great treasure of the Holy Ghost, represented as the white dove or
the holy fire.

You see what strange ideas the teaching of alchemy contains.

Another sixteenth century author, Dorneus, speaks of the centre as one, and of manifold things as the periphery which surrounds this one mysterious paradoxical thing.

He says: “Here [in the one) is the centre of natural wisdom. Its circumference, closed in itself, represents a circle, an order which stretches into infinity.”

In other words: the whole world is ruled and ordered from this centre.

It is as if the controlling forces radiated from it, it is a point with a circle round it.

We shall find another parallel later which belongs to the same idea.

This point, centre or darkness, the lead as most of the alchemists call it, is also Saturn, for Saturn is the planet which belongs to lead.

Saturn and lead are simply synonyms.

And in another text it is Saturn himself that speaks and says: “I declare unto all, ye wise ones, that unless you kill me, your intellect will never be perfected.”

Saturn, the lead, recommends the alchemists or philosophers to kill him, in order to gain possession of the soul which he contains and then he adds:

“And the grace of your wisdom grows in my sister, the moon.”

The moon is a light giving planet, one of our two sources of light.

It is the light which lightens the darkness, for it shines when the sun has gone down.

So the moon is the symbol for the wisdom and illumination which comes to man in the darkness.

This light is invisible in the day, we need the night in order to recognise it.

The moon, as the white goddess, represents the white soul of the lead; and if . we kill Saturn, the spirit of heaviness, in ourselves, this moon will be able to rise, and the grade of human wisdom grows
in it, because it is the soul of Saturn, the light buried in the depths of matter.

These are ideas which are clearly formulated in the writings of Paracelsus.

He says directly that man has two lights: the one is the spirit and the other the light of nature.

Man has a spirit in order to be able to understand the divine revelation, and a soul in order to recognise the world in the light of nature.

And this light of nature originates in the dark abyss.

The dark abyss is man’s innermost secret, the darkness which lies behind ego-consciousness and which we feel dimly.

When we ask: “What is the ego?” or wonder what we mean when we say “I”, we are still only on the surface, in space and time.

Our ordinary consciousness is surface consciousness and does not touch the darkness which lies behind it.

We feel, however, very distinctly that such a darkness does exist, for everything which we call psychical comes from it.

Our whole psychical life originates in this darkness, just as a child’s consciousness rises from the dark, unknown mists of the past.

We can see this in certain turns of speech, such as: “It dawned on me”.

It is as if the sun rose when we realise something, usually through a good intuition, a spontaneous movement of the mind which is not our own activity.

If we are deprived of all the hunches and ideas which flow to us from the unconscious we are completely lamed.

Yet we seldom realise that this flow is not our own activity, but the activity of the unconscious.

You see now that in the alchemists’ teaching about the sapientia we meet a detailed description of the unconscious.

The unconscious is a wholly paradoxical being, on one side it resembles the Holy Ghost, or a fountain which springs from the darkness like a river of Einfiille [hunches).

Psychical activity flows into our consciousness, but we cannot make it do so.

We are entirely dependent on whether it flows or not.

If it stops we feel ill, “rotten” as we call it. We even go to the doctor to ask him what can be wrong, for we are so used to the functioning of the unconscious that we are naturally amazed when it stops.

It is like the water supply, we take it for granted and never think of it till it fails us.

On the other side, this source of life is identical with the dark Tartarus or hell, a dangerous place where the soul is tormented, the land of the departed where there is no life, where everything is so
to speak dead.

If we could visualise it, it would look like lead, and indeed when the flow from the unconscious stops, we are apt to say: “I feel heavy a s lead. ”

A Chinese alchemistic text, “The Secret of the Golden Flower”, says: “Whoever is dull and moody on waking, and chained to his bodily form, is fettered by the anima.”

This anima is the female soul, the Sapientia, and therefore the alchemists connect her with the moon, and call her the white goddess or the daughter of the philosophers.

The philosophers, who practise this art, endeavour to free this white shining goddess from the darkness of Tartarus, from the blackness of the lead and therefore they are, so to speak, the fathers of
this daughter.

In summing up, I should like to point out that the sapientia is above all a world creating principle for the philosophers.

They compare it with the logos which created the world from an unimaginably small point through the pure word.

The sapientia is concealed in matter as a divine emanation which is lost in the darkness.

Therefore it is compared to the myth of Sophia or Nous falling in love with the Physis and being devoured by her.

And the sapientia is also the daughter of the wise, inasmuch as it is redeemed from the darkness of the materia through the activity of the philosophers.

It is called fire, water or salt, and is also described as a point and a circle and thus equals 0, the sign for gold, which was widely used by the alchemists.

This sign depicts a fundamental symbol for the centre of the unconscious.

There is a picture, in the “Rosarium Philosophorum” (1550), which represents the whole problem (see sketch p. 195).

It is drawn, as you see, on the pattern of the Coronation or Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary was taken up into Heaven after her death with her body.

She is depicted, so to speak, as the representative of the sinful hyle, as the mediastress of all sinners; because she has taken the sinful body up to Heaven, though of course in a glorified form,
for the materia has been purified and sanctified.

In our picture she is crowned and surrounded by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

Only in that case, God the Son should be young, whereas both the male figures are old men.

It is definitely an alchemistic picture and not orthodox, we see this moreover from the inscriptions.

They are: “Cuius que pater est Sol. Luna mater Et Filius.” (And whose father is the sun. Moon the mother. And the son.)

“Vera luna est mater ” (Verily the moon is the mother).

“Et ex patre fit filius” (And out of the father the son proceeds).

“Draco non moritur, Et non per Unum tantum abs que fratre et sorore sua sed per ambo simul” (The dragon does not die, and not by means of only one, without his brother and sister, but only
Through both at once).

And above the head of the female figure “Tria” (three) and “Unum” (one) are written.

The dragon must be sacrificed and with his brother and sister.

This is Saturn or the mercurial dragon which has a soul, namely the moon, and it is necessary to kill this dragon, in order that the son may appear.

The son is depicted here as the spirit, the bird hovering over the head of Mary, in union with her, so to speak.

She represents the Hyle, the material body.

The old man, on Mary’s right, is Hermes, the god of wisdom, and the one on the left may be God the Father in the Christian sense, but he is flanked by wisdom.

Wisdom is masculine in this picture, because the feminine is representing the materia.

The Holy Ghost, the white dove, is masculine and the Hyle feminine, for this picture represents a coniunctio, the union of the heavenly spirit with matter.

This is the secret of the coniunctio, the chemical marriage; it is a union of spirit and body.

So you see that a principle is represented here which is missing in Christianity.

This picture does not represent a trinity but a quaternity, four principles are brought into harmony.

So the centre of the whole picture is the coronation, the so-called diadem; the spirit is hovering over the point in the centre of the crown.

This spirit and the three figures are the four aspects of this one point.

So we come back to the diagram that I have often drawn for you, as the symbol of the Self. ~Carl Jung, ETH, Pages 186-195.

Liked it? Take a second to support lewislafontaine on Patreon!