Lecture VI 6th June, 1941
In the last lecture we began to speak of the “scientia”, which could be best translated as knowledge or understanding.
The lecture came to an end when we were considering a particularly difficult passage in Kalid Yezyd’s text: “Liber trium verborum.”
Yet it is important, so we must try to understand it better.
If we are at all prejudiced in reading such a passage, we should naturally be incline d to dismiss it as an obscure alchemistic rigmarole.
But careful thought brings us to the conclusion that this passage is no phantastic embroidery, invented by the author, but that it really reveals the mystery, the centre of the peculiar philosophic
movement of alchemy, though in the form of a parable.
Strictly speaking I should now explain to you what this mystery really is, but that is beyond my power in the time at my disposal.
It would take a fortnight’s continuous lectures to reach its real meaning, so I can only give you a few hints, and refer you for the rest to the existing literature.
It is evident that a comparison is drawn in Kalid’s passage between the alchemistic opus and the development of the foetus during a pregnancy.
This parallel dates from olden times and played a particularly important role with the Arabic alchemists.
One can see in our passage that it is a matter of a process of transition, the foetus is first in the water, then in the air and last in the fire.
This is not to be taken literally, of course, it is clearly symbolic language; it is as if the foetus wandered through the four elements.
Only three are mentioned, but the beginning is the earth.
The foetus comes from there and is then contained in the water, air and fire one after the other, which is the manner of this mysterious pregnancy and birth.
This is a mythological motif, which we find in very different forms and in many other places.
There are innumerable myths which begin with miraculous generation, pregnancy and birth, our own Christian dogma being no exception.
The life of Christ is, in this respect, similar to that of innumerable other gods, heroes and kings.
It is the motif of the miraculous child, but this touches on a wide field which it is impossible to mention briefly; it is dealt with in a book which I published recently with Prof. Karl Kerenyi.
It is this divine child motif which appears in our passage, and the child to be born is called “Mercury”; the text tells us that everything is said as a parable of it.
Mercury is that peculiar, entirely paradoxical, middle being which sometimes appears in nature as matter, in the form of quicksilver, but which is also a Nous or Pneuma.
Perhaps you know Grimm’s fairy story: “Der Geist Mercurius”, it appears there as a spirit.
A hermaphroditic quality is also ascribed to mercury, it is bi-sexual, and altogether a most peculiar being.
Mercury is the anima mundi, the soul of the world, and entered matter as an emanation of God, and since then it is concealed in it.
So mercury in our text is contained in earth or metal as the divine soul, and this is the mystery of the alchemists.
The alchemist saw a psychical secret in matter, a projected piece of unconsciousness; and on account of the fact that matter was a secret to him, he could project into it.
He tried in his work to extract the soul, starting with ordinary quicksilver, and to develop and transform it into a marvellous final substance which he called the lapis philosophorum.
The whole thing is a psychical mystery which does not only express itself in alchemy, but in many religious doctrines.
The child legend is not only to be found in classical antiquity nor exclusively in Christianity, it exists also in Indian mythology and innumerable primitive legends.
It is an archetype, a primeval type among legends, which appears universally, expressing itself through similar images.
In alchemy it appears in a very peculiar and unusual way.
The description in our text is a matter of the well-known diagram, the circle divided into four which meet as one in the centre, as in Diagram I (see p. 180).
The development starts with the earth and rises in a sort of spiral, it goes through the water, air and fire, ending as a sublimated earth, on a higher level, as it were.
This process is roughly indicated in Diagram II.
The development goes through the water which lies on the earth, up into the air and, still higher, passes through the fire and ends with the “corpus glorificationis”, the immortal, incorruptible body.
This process is described in our text as a pregnancy.
The process, which ostensibly took place in the retort, also took place in the alchemist, and therefore he felt connected in a mysterious way with the process in the retort.
The thing which happened outwardly was also happening inwardly; but the alchemist was never really conscious of the inward process.
He thought that he saw it outside himself, or that he could bring about the result in his retort, but the thing which really happened came from within.
The condition, shown in our diagram, is an inner condition, a psychical pre-condition, as those of you who heard my lectures on the Indian texts already know.
In the Amitayur-Dyhana-Sutra, the first symbol, which was found under the threshold of consciousness, was the golden banner, which, like our present diagram, is based on the quaternity.
The quaternity is a primeval image which is to be met with everywhere.
It extends to the horizon as the points of the compass, it is the four seasons of the year, the four elements, the four types of temperament and so on.
The whole natural philosophy of the Middle Ages is founded on the quaternity, it is upheld or disputed, but everything centres round it.
The quaternity also plays an important role in Christian symbolism as the cross, though the cross is by no means an exclusively Christian symbol.
In Yucatan the Spaniards found ancient crosses everywhere; they were much puzzled and asked the Bishops how this could be.
The Bishops, driven into a corner, brought out the old argument of Justin the Martyr, who met a similar situation by saying that the devil knew beforehand God was planning to send Christ down into the world, and laid his plans accordingly.
It was the devil that invented the legend of Dionysus and pump ed it into mankind, so that when Christ app eared people would say: “We have heard that old story before” and would not be impressed.
The Bishops adapted this idea to the situation which arose in Yucatan, through the discovery of the Maya remains.
The devil, they said, had discovered he was having no success in Europe (in those days, for he is certainly most successful nowadays!) so he emigrated to America and pumped the idea of crosses
into the people there.
Then, when the missionaries arrived, the people would say: “That is an old story, why we have had crosses here for ages;” and so all the wind would be taken out of the sails of the Christians preaching the gospel!
It was also said in antiquity that Dionysus was the prototype and that Christ was merely a better edition of the same thing. Justin the Martyr himself was worried by the resemblance, so he came to the conclusion that only the devil could have invented anything of the kind.
The early Fathers of the Church were determined to assert that Christianity had no fore-runners, no preparatory history, that it fell down from Heaven as something entirely new.
Therefore as Dionysus, unfortunately, really existed, they were obliged to account for him by inventing such legends.
The universal symbols of the cross (quaternity) and of the child meet in our passage.
The Joint in the middle of the first diagram is the child, sleeping in the centre of the world.
The cross was thought of then as designating the centre of the world and the child lying asleep there must be woken up, it must, so to speak, grow up from the centre of the earth.
The alchemists endeavoured to bring this about, though, as you see, they expressed themselves in chemical language, in the symbolism of nature.
Whereas it is really a matter of a peculiar psychical process, the mystery of psychical transformation.
I can only tell you, by way of a hint, that this mystery is also the central mystery of Christianity, the “mysterium fidei” (mystery of faith) , which is celebrated in every Mass.
It is lost in Protestantism, for the Protestants “threw out the child while emptying the bath.”
It is necessary for us to know this piece of the history of the mind (which I have been trying to sketch for you in the roughest outlines) in order to understand this passage.
For when Kalid says: “And this word, discourse and dark way of speaking are made known, in order that the truth should be seen” he is simply telling the truth.
But who can understand him?
Only those who have really experienced the psyche themselves can understand, or at least one must know a great deal about such experiences in order to be able to appreciate such a text.
I should recommend anyone who is interested to read the books which exist on the subject: “The Secret of the Golden Flower” for instance.
The small book containing my Terry Lectures: “Psychology and Religion” deals especially with the question of the relation of the quaternity to the psychical processes.
I regret that these things are so unusually difficult, and that they cannot be dealt with adequately in a short time.
But I feel that I must at least give you some idea of the enormous material which is compressed into an alchemistic text.
We come now to one of the later alchemists, MYLIUS , who lived in the beginning of the seventeenth century.
He says of the scientia: “Its ways are beautiful and praiseworthy operatios, they are not contemptible and its paths are moderate and not over hasty, but are the industry of persevering work. It is a wood of life, to those who understand it and a never failing light. Blessed are they who possess it, for the science of God (or from God) will never perish.”
The wood of life refers to Gen. II. 16: “. . . Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat” except, of course, of the tree of knowledge.
In Christian symbolism the wood of life is the cross; Christ, the sacrifice, is nailed to this cross.
The wood of the cross is referred to in many ways: as the wood of life, the balsam of life, the food which bestows eternal life and so on.
It is also the “cibus legitimus et sempiternus “(the legitimate and eternal food), a symbolism which we have met before.
We hear in this passage that the wood of life is the scientia of the alchemists, and further that it is a science of God or from God.
Presumably this is simply a translation of the old Greek term, gnosis theou (knowledge of God).
The Latin is “scientia Dei”, and this could be the science given by God, but it could also be the science of God.
But if it is a translation of “gnosis theou” then it is really knowledge of God, in the sense of God being the object.
Therefore this science is an immortal food, because it is knowledge of God.
So you see how far the alchemists went in appreciation of their science.
We come now to another formulation by the same author which is again baffling.
He describes the scientia or knowledge as a substance, a chemical substance, a material body, and he says of it:
“That substance is the place of knowledge, it collects this and is a house of tinctures.”
Apparently the knowledge or science is in that substance (or body), the two are identical so to speak
And further it is a house of tinctures, of colouring matters, and is, therefore, a dwelling place for spirits (pneumata or spiritus).
When these spirits are applied to a base substance, they dye it and give it a new colour, which means they transform it, according to the old belief that metals were determined by their colour:
If silver could be dyed yellow then it became gold.
The underlying thought is that the science lies behind this substance and is identical with a kind of material spirit which produces transformation, and at the same time the psyche of man is transformed by it.
The man, who pursues the science, goes, as it were, into the house of the tinctures (which is the piscina) and dips himself in it as if it were a bath.
Hermetic treatises exist, where this house is actually represented as a vessel for mixing, in which the man who enters dips himself and is transformed by a baptismal act, receiving a perfect nature.
“Therefore the philosophers have compared it (this house) to the substance in which one condenses the sanctified water.”
This passage is somewhat complicated but so is the original Latin.
We are told that the philosophers have compared the scientia to a substance in which sacred water is solidified, that is coagulated.
So this substance is a condensation, a fluid which has become solid.
This fluid is the “aqua benedicta” (blessed water); the divine water is a solidified form of the Holy Ghost, of the Pneuma.
At first, of course, it resembles air, but as it approaches the earth it cools and condenses, and therefore drops down on to the earth in the form of water.
This is the reason why early Christianity speaks of water as the “spiritus veritatis”.
The water which flowed from the wound in the side of Christ is the fertilising, life-giving Holy Ghost, calling forth life everywhere, and giving man supernatural life whenever it pours over him.
Mark the word “pour “; you can pour water, but not air, and it really is a water.
Moreover the colour attributed to the Holy Ghost in the Middle Ages was green, because when the spirit of life is poured over the earth the latter becomes green.
The Pneuma was a fertilising spirit, according to the old idea; and when the shadow of the Holy Ghost passed over Mary, like that of a bird on the wing, she became pregnant in a miraculous manner.
This passage from Mylius tells us that the substance with which the alchemists worked, and which was called the scientia, is really a condensation of the Holy Spirit which took place in the beginning of time, namely when the spirit of God incubated the waters.
This spirit condensed as it sank down from the fiery Heaven, as steam condenses when sinking down towards the earth, and entering matter it formed the “humidum radicale” (radical humidity).
This is a psychical image, which was projected by the alchemists into matter.
Such an image necessarily came from within, and was made visible through psychical introspection.
Unless something of the kind existed in us, it could not find expression.
The same philosopher uses yet another parable.
“This science is compared to the egg, because the four are united in it.”
Why should the four be united in the egg?
This refers to the old texts in which the components of the egg are identified with the elements: the shell is earth, the white of the egg water, the yolk fire and the fine skin round these is air.
These analogies were made to fit more or less artificially, the egg had to contain the original four, because it is the origin of all life.
Everything arises from this original quaternity and grows up into consciousness.
The simplest division of the circle is into four, and it is therefore a symbolic concept for wholeness.
You can divide it into 360 or anything you like, but it is always a multiple of four.
As the circle is determined by four points, so each representation has four aspects: four elements, four seasons, four “humores”, four cardinal points and so on.
Causality has a fourfold root (Schopenhauer).
When I was trying to develop an image of the structure of consciousness, I instinctively came on the quaternity, with no knowledge at that time of the conclusions of the old philosophers.
The four aspects appear as the four functions of consciousness:
Sensation tells us what is there and thinking what something is. Feeling tells us its value and whether we want to accept or to reject it; and the fourth function, intuition, gives us information about the invisible aspects; it tells us, for instance, where something comes from and what will become of it.
These are the four aspects of conscious orientation, we cannot find another because these are all that exist.
This is the simplest and most basic fact.
When the old masters of natural philosophy were trying to find definitions, with which they could bring some order into the chaos of the world, they discovered the four elements and that everything could be expressed through these.
How else could one divide the sea or the earth?
There are just four points of the compass, it is the simplest thing in the world.
This same alchemist, Mylius, gives us another definition of the scientia, which is absolutely contradictory.
He says: “It is said that the science is similar to a basilisk, and to other poisonous reptiles.”
This is quite incomprehensible at first.
How can the science, which is a revelation, a gift of God, a sacrament, the Holy Ghost itself, be a basilisk or other poisonous reptile?
A basilisk can blast and kill with its very breath or glance.
It is the worst that could be said.
Yet the spirit Mercury has also been represented in other texts as a poisonous reptile, as a dangerous dragon or scorpion.
In the early stages of the alchemist’s work with the substances, there is a considerable danger of poisoning, not of ordinary poisoning indeed, for the danger is psychical: he may easily go mad.
An old alchemist, Olympiodor, said that there was an impudent demon in the lead, which had the effect of sending the adepts mad.
It was actually the devil in the materia and at the same time the Most High.
This is a coincidentia oppositorum, the opposites appear in one, so that the one is good and bad at the same time.
You remember the formula of Nicolaus Cusanus that God is a “coincidentia oppositorum”.
I will conclude the excerpts from the sayings of the alchemists about the scientia with a quotation from a very old text, the “Liber Quartorum”.
We read there:
“The science is concerned with that which is behind the intelligence, for this reason we are hindered in understanding it.”
This is a very profound sentence.
The science, which is meant here, is as science relating to something beyond our understanding, because it lies essentially behind our intelligence.
Intelligence, in the language of this alchemist, is simply consciousness.
And what is it that lies behind consciousness?
Naturally the unconscious.
We could give the meaning of this sentence just as well in other words:
“The science is concerned with the unconscious, therefore we are hindered in understanding it.”
We cannot understand the unconscious, so it remains obscure, and can only be expressed by symbols.
A symbol is the best expression we can find for something which cannot be known rationally and expressed.
There are many people to day who do not know the meaning of the word “symbol”, they assume it is a sign of something.
So the winged wheel on the Swiss railway official’s cap, for instance, is taken as the symbol of the railway.
But, as I have often told you before, if it were really a symbol it would mean that the railway official belonged to some secret society, which presumably worshipped some unknown god or demon that was represented, as well as possible, by a wheel with wings.
It is really the sign of the railway, a kind of allegory, invented to express the railway.
A symbol is never invented to express anything, but is the best possible expression for something which is beyond thought.
It is impossible to think a “coincidentia oppositorum”, so we are obliged to put a symbol in its place.
An unconscious content is a potential content, it is not actual but possible, it is and is not.
This is a language which the East knows well , the world itself is and is not for the Easterner.
The Indian swallows such a paradox without the slightest difficulty, but we are not accustomed to it.
The alchemist, however, operates from the general basic idea of a thing which exists and does not exist, which is dark and light, and good and bad, at the same time.
This is the condition which prevails in our unconscious, but we cannot express it; for we know nothing of the condition of the unconscious per se, and it is only when certain contents become
visible, that we realise they are both real and illusory, both good and bad.
The alchemists became aware of this in their· work, but they had no knowledge of psychology in those days, so they necessarily projected everything into matter.
In summing up I should like to recapitulate the foregoing definitions of the scientia: it is a revelation, a gift of God, even a sacrament, a mysterious substance and the house of the tinctures which contains the four, the mysterious quaternity.
It would be wiser for you to be satisfied with the fact that this is something mysterious, and not to try to understand it as anything definite; because it is not constructed but experienced.
We are also told that the science is like a pregnancy, a mystery of becoming.
It becomes out of itself, through a development from the dark to the light, and the alchemists have also compared their work to the course of the sun.
We heard further that this science is not only the gift of the good God, a legitimate and eternal food, but that it is also a poison, and is therefore compared to a basilisk.
And the last definition (which we gleaned from the Liber Quartorum) was that it is the science of the unconscious. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lectures, Pages 179-185.