Lecture VIII

20th June, 1941

At the end of the last lecture, I showed you a picture from the “Rosarium”, an “assumptio corporis” (assumption of the body), well disguised as a picture of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

It is so well disguised that many people would not be able to see the difference.

I have brought you another picture today for the sake of orientation.

This is a picture from the book “PANDORA” which was published by a doctor, Hieronymus Reussner, in 1588.

This picture is a combination of several pictures which are to be found in the so-called “Dryfaltigkeitsh Hoch” (the book of the Trinity), an alchemistic treatise in the German language.

This book was never printed, it only appeared in manuscript form.

There are three manuscripts still in existence; one of these is a codex in Munich containing almost all the images which appear in our picture.

One special item (the picture in the shield) comes from a Swiss sixteenth century codex in St. Gallen.

It is hinted at in the Dryfaltigkeitsbuoch but is not reproduced in it.

Our picture from the “Pandora” has various inscriptions.

We read at the bottom: Figura speculum Trinitatis”. (Figure of the mirror of the Holy Trinity.)

The symbols of the four evangelists appear at the four corners: the eagle of John, the lion of Mark, the ox of Luke and the angel of Matthew.

The sitting figure on the right holding the globe is described as ” Ignis” (fire) and also curiously enough as “Jesse”.

This refers to the “root of Jesse” from which Christ sprang.

The inscription is: Jesse pater filius et mater” (Jesse father, son and mother), so male, female and offspring are all united in this figure.

This is, of course, not a Christian idea, but it is to be found in Gnosticism.

Perhaps you know that in a Gnostic text (the so-called ” Acts of Thomas”) the Holy Ghost is interpreted as the mother of Christ.

But in the orthodox Christian dogma there is of course no feminine figure in the Trinity, and the Holy Ghost is most certainly neither female nor a mother.

The apparently still older man (with the long beard, on the left side) is called “Sapientia Wysheit” (wisdom) and the female figure in the centre is marked “Corpus Lyb” (body).”

Die Wijmn der Jungkfrowenn wardt “(She became the bliss of the virgins) is written below and refers of course to Mary; and is in fact a sort of disguise to give the picture the appearance of an Assumption of the Virgin.

And she is also designated as “terra” (earth), which refers to the body (earth) of Mary which is said to have been taken up into heaven.

Curiously enough we find “aia” (anima) written by the halo of the old man with the globe.

Anima, Seele (soul) is written below him again, so there is no doubt that it definitely refers to this figure.

This figure is apparently God the Father, he holds a globe, the world, on his knee.

Apparently God the Father is thought of here as the soul, the anima mundi, which is the centre of the world, and which at the same time enfolds the whole world, or rather the universe including the starry heavens.

This is a Platonic idea; the anima, as animation par excellence, is the principle of movement.

It is only natural that this principle should be attributed to God the Father who holds the universe, as it were, in his lap.

The very curious picture in the centre (inside shield) requires some explanation.

It is a double eagle, with two necks stretching to the right and left.

The two heads on these necks, however, are those of snakes, and a pair of human hands grows out of the wings.

It has also a human head in the centre, surrounded by a halo, and its body ends in the tail of a basilisk with a sting.

There are two human legs below belonging to a human figure behind.

The head of this figure wears a crown, as well as a halo.

This second figure is the so-called Emperor or King, he is extracting the winged figure, which is also himself, out of a rock or clump of earth; he is pulling it up by means of the hands that grow out of the wings.

The left side of the whole picture is evidently the side of the “sapientia” (wisdom), whereas the right is the side of the anima, the anima mundi (soul of the world), which, according to the alchemists, permeated all the materia and the whole universe.

Evidently (in the central picture) it is this divine soul which is being liberated from its prison in matter.

This soul is represented as a winged being, half dragon, half bird, with two snake heads and one human head; a monstrous, fabulous creature, strange, mysterious and unique.

It is little wonder that most people who have studied alchemy have been completely baffled by it.

They were searching for the history of chemistry, and what has such a picture to do with chemistry?

It has no value from that point of view, but, on the other hand, it is of the greatest value when looked up on from the standpoint of the history of the human mind.

In the book “Pandora” (from which this picture is taken) we find so-called explanations.

You will soon see why I say “so-called “.

Under the letter A. we read :

“Young I old I therefore is God Jesus Christ himself his Holy Ghost I young I old I proper or belonging to I terra I earth.”

They call that an explanation!

The only thing one can conclude is that the picture is intended as a representation of the Deity. Under the letter B. we find:

“The whole denotes that the Holy Ghost is a he art I from whose coat of arms the emperor arises and makes his path smooth.”

The coat of arms must refer to the central picture, it was the general custom in those days to represent such emblems in the form of coats of arms.

Presumably it is a heart, the heart of matter and at the same time the Holy Ghost, represented by this peculiar monster which is being raised by the Emperor who thus makes the path smooth, apparently the path of the Holy Ghost.

Under C. we read:

“Omnia sunt unum esse, sanctus , luna, charitas.” (All things are one being I Holy I moon I charity.)

The moon perhaps refers to the body, represented by Mary; according to the old idea that Mary was a moon-goddess.

This is the reason she is sometimes represented as standing on the moon (in the Dresden Raphael Madonna, for instance).

As the moon she was married to God as the sun.

The dove, which is just below the letter C, could be connected with charitas (love), because from olden days the dove has been the sacred bird of Astarte, the rather disreputable goddess of love.

Under D . we read:

“Red blood I Mercury I Venus I human is the evening whose son is of human flesh I divine . Deus, Filius, Pater, est unum, God, Son, Father are one.”

This formula i s similar to that of “A”, a divine humanity is also expressed there.

It certainly describes a triad, perhaps the Trinity, anyway a three in one.

Under E. we read:

“Whose son flesh divine I human I is the morning red blood is Sol, pietas I [sun, piety) justice.”

This must refer to the son who is contained in the Father, so to speak.

This is quite possible because the Father is holding the globe , the earth, in which the son is contained.

The son is also represented as this monstrous creature which is being dragged out of the earth.

You see that this picture is very much less cleverly disguised than the former one from the “Rosarium”, in fact the secret of alchemy is rather clearly expressed; though we are still far from understanding what it all means.

I cannot possibly expect you to understand the real meaning from these few hints, but both pictures will give you a very good idea of the way the medieval alchemists dressed up their own peculiar problems in Christian clothes.

As I told you before one of the main reasons for this disguise was the danger of being branded as heretics.

Therefore, as I also mentioned, their texts often begin and end with professions of the Christian faith, because it was necessary that they should stress what good Christians they were, for the very reason that it was doubtful whether their alchemistic pursuit was really Christian at all.

The picture in the shield is very mysterious.

We could perhaps say that the whole picture represents a sort of transfiguration of matter.

Mary has been taken up with her body into heaven; not with her ordinary body, of course, but with the so-called “corpus glorificationis” [glorified body), a subtle body composed of such rarefied matter, that it is fit to be admitted to the court of the spirit.

This picture represents a kind of process of becoming, it shows us the soul of the materia being drawn forth, matter adhering to the spirit as it is pulled out and eventually becoming the glorified body of Mary.

The central secret of alchemy begins below [in the picture in the shield) with the clod of earth or rock, containing the spirit.

This formless mass is the so-called “prima materia” which is the starting point of the whole of alchemy.

Every exercise in meditation, or adventure in meditation if one may use such an expression, has a starting point. In the Ignatian exercises, for instance, it is sinful man, entangled in his sins and conflicts and in insufficient s elf knowledge.

He must therefore contemplate himself in order to purify himself from his sins, he must recognise them and repent, and he must seek for grace and union with Christ.

In Buddhism the psychological starting point is avidya [not knowing), imprisonment in the darkness of the world, entanglement in the concupiscentia, desire for worldly things, adhesions to the world and its deceptive illusions.

This original condition is aggravated, according to Buddhism, through the illusion that we are individuals, and through the manifoldness of the world.

We imagine that we are single units in a manifold world, but Buddhism dismisses individual consciousness and the world itself as illusion.

The starting point in alchemy is the prima materia.

We shall soon see that it is impossible to establish the characteristics of the prima materia.

It is the unknown, one could call it a dark hole in the universe, and it represents the crux of alchemy in all ages.

One reads in the old texts: “Take the prima materia” and do such and such.

The directions would be clear enough if one knew what the prima materia was.

There are texts which claim to explain it, but they are incomprehensible; one reads them eagerly but is none the wiser.

It was evidently the same for the alchemists themselves, none of them knew what it was, yet they all speak of it.

What can we conclude from this?

The alchemists were really saying: “We know that the prima materia exists, somewhere and in some way, but it is unknown.”

Today we should say: “We are speaking of the unconscious”; but in those days there was no psychology, so they did not think of the unconscious as something which could be experienced, and therefore everything was projected.

Everything which we do not know we necessarily project.

We think “How peculiar that person is”, but no one is peculiar really.

People seem odd to us when they possess qualities which we do not see in ourselves.

Everything which we do not see in ourselves we project into other people, but we can only integrate something when we recognise it as part of ourselves.

The alchemists frequently name and describe the prima materia, but in such a way that the most daring imagination is unable to follow.

Therefore the alchemists themselves say that it has “piusquam miiie Iegionum nominum” (more than a thousand legions of names).

This is an exaggeration, for it is an almost astronomical number, and there are not as many words, much less names, in any language.

I have discovered about 150 of such names, so we could venture to say there must be about 300.

I do not, of course, intend to intro duce you to all of these, for that might land us in the lunatic asylum!

But, even if it is somewhat cruel, I do intend to acquaint you with a fraction, because these names are no haphazard names, but the result of deep meditation and fruitful intuition.

They are, therefore, very important in our effort to understand what the alchemists were really driving at.

X. Nomina of Prima Materia

The name, which we find used most of all, is “prima materia” itself.

This expresses a sort of inkling as to the nature of this unknown thing.

On the same lines it is called the Hyle, in the sense of the primal substance of which the alchemists believed the world to be made; and “materia confusa” or “massa confusa”, that is the chaotic state of matter, which corresponds to the beginning of the world, when the latter was beginning to come into existence but before God actually created the world.

Therefore it is also directly called the “chaos”.

Some of you may remember a picture I showed you before, but it will mean much more to you in this connection. (See sketch p. 202) .

We think of a chaos as complete confusion, but to the alchemists it was a confusion of definite qualities and of special factors.

Primal matter consists of matter as such: the components or qualities of which are represented in this picture.

Chief among these are the four elements – fire, earth, air and water – the material qualities par excellence.

The planets also appear and the twelve signs of the Zodiac.

These represent primal qualities, according to the old astrological idea that everything on earth is under the influence the moment in time in which it was born or created.

The qualities of man, beast and plant are thus determined by the horoscope.

The idea that time should possess qualities is very foreign to our modern scientific attitude, for time has become a mathematical concept to us.

In earlier days, however, both time and numbers had definite qualities.

A simple experiment shows one that this is still the case with the primitive mentality today.

If you show a primitive one match and ask him how many, he will reply: “One “.

If you take two others and ask him again, he will reply: “Two.”

But if you put the three together, he will reply: “One one match, and two two matches”.

This shows us that numbers are qualities to the primitive, “one” matches are different to “two” matches.

You can also reverse the experiment and begin by showing him three matches.

When you divide them, he will say: “That is one three match” and “Those are two three matches.”

So it is quite clear that each number has a different quality for him, an inexplicable magic quality.

This is the reason why all numbers, from one to nine, are sacred in some religion or other, for numbers are fascinating: mysterious, magic and incomprehensible.

It is the same with the moment in time, it has a magic mysterious quality and therefore the things which come into being in that moment, carry the same magic and mysterious quality in themselves.

This magic influence was attributed to the stars, it was assumed that they, as constituents of the eternal being, had magic qualities and sent out vibrations, so to speak, which influenced human destiny.

Even today astrologists superstitiously assume something of the same kind; but such ideas are illusory and cannot be proved.

There are certainly many inexplicable things in horoscopes, but they cannot possibly be explained by emanation of magic qualities from the stars or anything of that kind.

This is impossible, because the stars which appear in the horoscope are not really in that position at the moment of birth.

This is because we have an artificial reckoning of time, owing to the so-called “precession of the equinoxes.”

The spring point recedes 55 seconds every year, a problem which already teased the old Babylonians.

In order to keep the clocks right, so to speak, the astronomers (circa 100 B. C. when the sun was moving into the sign of the fishes) fixed the spring point at zero degrees Aries (in which it had already been for about 2000 years).

Since then it has remained fixed, though actually, instead of being in Aries, the sun is somewhere at the end of the fishes.

Horoscopes, therefore, are reckoned by an artificial sky, so to speak; and so the peculiar quality of the moment cannot possibly depend on the stars, but must belong to time itself.

It is very difficult for us to understand such ideas, for magic is a necessary hypothesis in understanding the primitive mind.

We can really only accept the fact that time is regarded as the stream of life, as a living being as it were; and that the moment of time, particularly the future moment, has a magic meaning.

The right moment. the Kairos of the Greeks, was a god, so to speak, and so was Chronos in the age of philosophy.

And Chronos was Saturn, one of the seven planets.

You will see from all this that the original astrological heaven was contained in the chaos, and this is the reason why we find these components represented in the old pictures.

The prima materia is also called the “igneum internum et occultum” (the inner and concealed fire), and the “limus microcosmi” (slime of the small world).

This last name is interesting inasmuch as the “microcosmus” is man, and “limus” is dirt or slime; so “limus microcosmi” is the dirt of man.

It is also called “vilissimum”, the vilest, cheapest and most despised thing which is to be found everywhere.

In this aspect, therefore, the thing which is rejected as worthless, or even pernicious, is the prima materia.

It is also called “abyssus” (the abyss) or “humidum radicale” [the radical humidity).

That is the moisture in matter from which all growth arises.

Or it is called the “humidum unctuosum subtile” (a viscous subtle fluid).

The moisture represented in this name is a thick semi-fluid, and not a water; but the prima materia is often directly called aqua (water) or “aqua mercurialis” (mercurial water).

In the latter case it must be remembered that mercury has the double meaning of water and spirit, so the same meaning could be expressed as spirit water.

They also call it “aquae inferiores” which is derived from Genesis (1:7.) when God “divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament.”

The prima materia is especially the lower waters, shrouded in darkness, from which the earth came forth, so to speak.

The prima materia, therefore, is also named “principium mundi” (principle of the world), “caput mundi” (head of the world), “initium mundi” (beginning of the world), “origo” (origin), or simply “unum” (the One); or “primumens” (the first being).

And in connection with aqua the prima materia is also spoken of as “mare” (sea) or “m are no strum ” (our sea), the latter being used in the sense of a mysterium.

And it is further called “aqua maris” (sea water) and “oceanus” (ocean).

The prima materia is very often referred to as “corpus” and usually it is added that this “corpus” consists of four aggregate components or qualities which all exist side by side.

Another series of names belonging in the same connection are: “terra” (earth), “terra nigra” (black earth), “terra Adamica” (Adam’s earth), “terra rubra” (red earth), “terra sanguinea” [blood red earth), “terra carnalis” (carnal earth), or simply “lapis” (stone).

Another definition, which occurs often, belongs here, “lata”.

This is a masculine noun but is also used as feminine, or in the plural form: “]atone”.

The alchemists themselves were never quite sure what the word meant.

According to the alchemical lexicon of Rulandus (circa 1612), Jato was a copper which had been dyed gold by the lapis calaminaris (carbonate of zinc).

But this is a chemical formula, whereas the psychological interest lies in the fact that copper is the Cyprian metal, the sacred metal of Venus.

Apparently, therefore, when the word “Jato” is used it refers to a sort of earth of Venus, something dedicated to the goddess of love, which is transformed through the mysterious “lapis calaminaris” (apparently carbonate of zinc).

I do not know quite what they understood by this, but probably this “lapis calaminaris” was one of the miraculous means by which matter was transformed.

Some of the names for the prima materia are more metaphorical.

For instance, it is often called “nigredo” (blackness) or “tenebrae” (darkness).

It is also called “mons niger” (black mountain) or simply “montes” (mountains).

The dark and turbid waters dropped to the bottom of the round alchemistic retorts and were called the “aquae inferiores”.

Through the cooking and the chemical processes, undertaken by the alchemists, this darkness was accentuated.

This stage represented the beginning of the world when “the darkness was upon the face of the deep”, and the alchemist sat watching his retort, expectantly and eagerly, and saw the way in which the “earth” began to form on the surface, when the material coagulated like a black mountain in the darkness.

You will remember perhaps from earlier lectures the way in which Mount Meru, the world mountain, appeared in the Buddhist vision in the Shri-Chakra-Sambhara Tantra.

Because of the blackness and weight of its original condition the prima materia was often called plumbum (lead) and there are a series of names connected with this.

But we shall consider the lead in detail later and you will see what curious ideas and names were connected with it.

The alchemists also assumed that “mercurius” (mercury) was contained, or at least could be transformed into, the prima materia.

This idea no doubt originated in the fact that quicksilver is unusually transformable, for the simple reason that it will amalgamate with a great many metals.

In contrast to these material definitions the prima materia was also called “coelum” (sky).

The astrological moment in time was stressed in this connection, for, as we have seen, the “materia” of the beginning included the starry sky and the whole universe in general.

The definition “magnesia” points in a similar direction, this magnesia is not the magnesia of today of course, the name was simply retained and used for a chemical substance.

The word was originally derived from “magnus ignis” and “magna Isis” (the great fire and the great Isis).

So you see again here that the original ideas of the prima materia included the most subtle and refined matter, and the great feminine figure, the goddess Isis, who made the earth fruitful.

On account of its blackness the prima materia was also called “carbo” (coal), “pix” (pitch) and “cinis” (ashes).

Another name is “sal” (salt), particularly “sal sapientiae” (the salt of wisdom).

And further it was named “natura abscondita” (concealed nature), and “natura metaphysica” (metaphysical nature), and also the “stone which is endowed with spirit”.

The old Greek authors quote a sentence from a much older, legendary Ostanes which says:

“Go to the streams of the river Nile and there thou wilt find a stone which has a spirit. Take this stone, divide it and put thy hand inside it and draw out its heart: for its soul is in its heart.”

An old copyist added the remark that pulling out the spirit was pulling out the quicksilver. ~Carl Jung, ETH, Pages 197-205.
·

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